Blaster Master (NES)

Pub: Sunsoft | Dev: Tokai Engineering | November 1988
Pub: Sunsoft | Dev: Tokai Engineering | November 1988

Blaster Master celebrates 30 years this month. Released in November of 1988, Blaster Master is one of those beloved 8-bit classics that most kids from the NES era fondly remembers. Although my gaming crew never held it quite in the same light as Contra or Mega Man 2, it was always right up there with the best of the rest. There was something about it. Something different and memorable. The ability to man a powered up tank was unique enough on its own, but throw in the ability to hop out of said tank to patrol around on foot made the blasting experience double cool. Switching from side-scrolling action to a top-down shooter differentiated Blaster Master from the masses, making it stand out in an era where most games featured very little variety. As a fun bonus, the title of the game encompassed the late ’80s. BLASTER MASTER. It was cool, yet cheesy. Charming, yet campy. It fit in perfectly with the times we were growing up in. Happy 30th Anniversary, Blaster Master!

The good old days when   back of boxes were so cool
The good old days when back of boxes were so cool

THE STORY GOES…

And who said Jason and Freddy can't be friends??
And who said Jason and Freddy can’t be friends?

The game features a timeless plot. You know it by heart. But just for the record…

Boy loves frog.

Frog escapes.

Frog licks radioactive tin.

Boy follows frog underground.

Boy finds tank.

Boy saves world.

Riveting stuff, really.

"Would you like flies with that?" [SMH -Ed.]
“Would you like flies with that?”  [Oh dear -Ed.]
No lid eh? Way to go, Einstein...
No lid eh? Way to go, Einstein…
Where the HELL is this kid living anyhow... AREA 51?!
Where the HELL is this kid living anyhow… AREA 51?!
Have we not learned anything from Godzilla?
Remember Godzilla, anyone?
Mmm, giant frog legs
Mmm, giant frog legs
You gotta appreciate the nonsensical wacky plot
You gotta appreciate the nonsensical wacky plot

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[You mean HELMET. Hmm, why did I hire you again? Remember kids, STAY IN SCHOOL!-Ed]
[You mean HELMET. Why did I hire you again?
Remember kids, ALWAYS STAY IN SCHOOL!-Ed]
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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

Hard to fathom it's been 30 years
Hard to fathom it’s been 30 years

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Navigating Sophia around the landscape is satisfying in and of itself. Managing the momentum of the tank as it moves about is all part of the fun. Add to that a healthy dosage of blasting bad guys and it’s a grand old time.

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You can leap out of the tank and patrol around on foot as Jason himself. He has his own health bar and there are certain locations that only Jason has access to.

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The tank is inoperable underwater, so Jason hops out for a quick swim. Thankfully, you don’t need to worry about finding water bubbles as a respite. Sonic the Hedgehog Jason ain’t!

Zap the jellyfish or swim around
Zap the jellyfish or swim around

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You’ll find a ladder at the end here that will take you to the first overhead section, where you’ll play exclusively as Jason.

He becomes a much easier target to hit
Reminiscent of NES Rygar, no?

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Life Force is another NES classic
Life Force is another NES classic
"Don't open til Doomsday!"
“Do not open until Doomsday!”

You’ll receive an upgrade for your tank after defeating the boss. Backtrack because now you can destroy the wall guardian with your new power-up. Nice!

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It definitely does, what with its backtracking and various upgrades that allow you to access previously inaccessible areas.

It's got that classic NES vibe
It’s got that classic NES vibe to it
Overpower these cronies
Overpower these cronies
Yup, you know what this means!
Yup you know what this means
Shades of Legend of Zelda
Shades of Legend of Zelda

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New power-ups allow you to expand the game as well as fortify your tank.

Stage variety is always nice
Stage variety is always nice
Blast their asses into tomorrow
Blast their asses into tomorrow
Oh no, could it be Fred?!
Oh no, could it be Fred?!
Obligatory swimming sections
Obligatory swimming sections
You can see the Metroid influences
You can see the Metroid influence
Looks like crab for dinner
Looks like crab for dinner
Color schemes range from
Blast bricks to reveal new areas
Obligatory slippery ice level
Ice affects your tank’s traction
A true game changer, this
A true game changer, this
Love the colors here
Love the colors here. Classic NES!
It captured my imagination
The action get crazier and crazier
In the words of Van Halen: jump!
In the words of Van Halen: JUMP!
The end (of the world) is near
The end (of the world) nears
The box cover star rears its ugly head
The box cover star finally appears
Can you vanquish the evil Overlord?
Can you slay the evil Overlord?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Often heralded as an NES classic, the real question is does Blaster Master stand the test of time? It was definitely a memorable title 30 years ago, but how well has it aged exactly? Obviously your mileage may vary, but from where I sit Blaster Master is a bit of an uneven playing experience. I found myself looking forward most to the side scrolling tank blasting action while the overhead sections patrolling around as Jason, not so much. Controlling the tank S.O.P.H.I.A. (which stands for Subatomic Omni-directional Probative Hyper-responsive Indomitable Abdicator) with its various power-ups is quite the good time. But the overhead bits feel a little clunky and cumbersome. They did so even back in 1988. 30 years later and it’s even more apparent. Throw into the equation some moderate backtracking and no save or password system and you have a game that hasn’t aged all that well.

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But judged on its own merits 30 years ago, it was an easy 8.5-9.0 of a game for many of us. It’s not as fun to play today but it’s still a decent time. However, I highly recommend playing Blaster Master Zero instead. I beat that one on the Nintendo Switch and it’s AWESOME. Makes it really hard going back to NES Blaster Master! Regardless of which game you choose to play, here’s a toast to 30 years of BLASTER MASTER. Thanks for the memories, SOPHIA!

Blaster Master Zero is the shit
Blaster Master Zero is the bee’s knees

Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (SNES)

Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Team Ninja | August 1995 | 12 MEGS
Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Team Ninja | August 1995 | 12 MEGS

Ninja Gaiden originated in the arcades in 1988. It was a beat ‘em up akin to Double Dragon and it wasn’t too well received. The NES version came out later that same year and did a complete 180. Not only was it now a side-scrolling action platformer, but it was heralded at the time for being one of the best games in the entire 8-bit NES catalog. Two sequels were released on the NES in 1990 and 1991. When word of a Super Nintendo system surfaced in the early ’90s, NES fans worldwide began dreaming of their favorite 8-bit titles receiving a glorious 16-bit makeover. Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, Metroid and so forth. Those games all received the SNES treatment while others were sadly left in the dust. The list of illustrious games snubbed includes Bionic Commando, Metal Gear, Rygar, and of course, Ninja Gaiden. But never fear, not all hope was lost. In the late summer of 1995, Tecmo gave SNES fans Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. Although not a proper 16-bit sequel, it gave us the three classic Ninja Gaiden NES hits on one cartridge, along with a brand new password feature. What could go wrong, right?

NINJA FEVER

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The 1980s was the decade of excess. Ronald Reagan, Boy George, Milli Vanilli, and oh yeah, Ninjas R Us. Be it Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Shinobi, ninjas dominated the scene. Cartoons, movies, toys and video games were inundated with ninjas galore. I remember my gaming group raving about Ninja Gaiden in the late ’80s. It was definitely a cut above your average NES game. We rented it a handful of times and could never beat it. The Ninja Gaiden games are notorious for their insane difficulty. While Ninja Gaiden wasn’t my absolute favorite, I always wanted to see a souped up 16-bit sequel — a Super Ninja Gaiden, if you will. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. But hey, at least Tecmo gave us Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. But it wasn’t without some controversy…

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Diehard fans of the NES trilogy have picked apart Ninja Gaiden Trilogy over the years, claiming that the NES originals are superior. But for me, the greatest tragedy is that by the time Tecmo released this game, I was starting to lose interest in SNES and gaming itself. Back in August of 1995, I was worried as hell about the first day of junior high, and it became harder and harder to enjoy video games with the same kind of zest as when you were a little kid. It was a time of change in my life, and the SNES and gaming in general began taking more of a backseat. If only Ninja Gaiden Trilogy came out in 1992 or 1993, and then we got Super Ninja Gaiden in 1994. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

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Fast forward to early 2006. I experienced an epic SNES renaissance. It was a golden time as most people had yet to hop on the SNES bandwagon of nostalgia. I beat the crowd by a good couple years. Life is all about timing, right? It wasn’t long before I snatched up Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. More than a decade later, I was finally going to play it. Speaking of decade, fun fact: these screenshots you see in this review were taken just over 10 years ago in May of 2008. I’ve been meaning to write a review of this game for ages…

NINJA GAIDEN

Ninja Gaiden opens with this stellar cinematic intro
Ninja Gaiden opens with this stellar cinematic intro

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Ryu: "I WILL GET MY REVENGE!"
Ryu: “I WILL GET MY REVENGE!”

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There’s something special about the first level in great games. Who could forget this classic first stage from Ninja Gaiden? Strike down bat wielding goons and use your deft ninja abilities to navigate your way through.

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Graphics were advertised as being improved to the NES versions. While this may be true technically, the difference is disappointingly minimal. Don’t expect the kind of visual improvement as seen in Super Mario All-Stars. Tecmo could have beefed up the visuals but sadly they took the bare minimum route.

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Remember hopping back and forth here in order to clear the top wall? Ah, that brings back the nostalgia…

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Beware of those pesky boxers. Ah, who could forget the classic first boss fight in the bar? Good stuff.

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Revered (in part) for its revolutionary cutscenes, Ninja Gaiden advanced its plot in a dramatic and memorable fashion.

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Shooting someone (even if it’s an anesthetic) and then asking said victim to do you a favor? Whoever this lady is, she’s got BALLS. And a strange creepy looking statue that she wants you to have for whatever reason… that I’m sure is completely wholesome…

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Similar to Castlevania, you can use various secondary attacks as long as you’ve collected enough ammunition. Long ranged attacks, such as the Shuriken, is a Godsend in such hairy situations.

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Relaxing retreat on a timeshare this ain’t!

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Secondary attacks range in effectiveness. It’s too bad you can’t collect them, switching off to the one you want as necessary. One of my favorites is the attack that allows you to jump and slash simultaneously, providing a sphere of precious protection around Ryu. It makes those unsettling platform jumps (i.e. the ones with a bad guy loitering at the edge) much more manageable.

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Pumpkinhead rejects and various fiends greet you with foul intent.

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Flying enemies — they’re the bane of many. Especially when your hero jumps back whenever hit. Machine gun toting mad men make your life a living hell. I hope you have an appropriate sub weapon!

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Nintendo players back in the day were legit if they could beat Ninja Gaiden fair and square. It left its mark on many, and has certainly terrorized many a childhood in the best of ways.

NINJA GAIDEN II: THE DARK SWORD OF CHAOS

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Thunder and lightning erupts over the land. Who’s the creepy guy in red?

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Ashtar’s his name, and he’s looking to finish the job Jaquio could not from the first game.

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Episode II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. Makes it feel epic like it’s from the Star Wars universe. One major improvement right off the bat is the ability to now climb walls. You had to hop back and forth in the first game but now you can scale various structures like a true ninja badass.

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Visually, the game looks a lot better than its predecessor. Although I’m not a fan of the red button eyesores that serve as your sub weapon containers. The first game was a lot more creative, housing them in everything from flickering lights to even hummingbirds. But that’s just a minor gripe. The first boss is a generic mutant that loves to deliver shoulder tackles.

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Innovative cutscenes helped made the original game so memorable, and Ninja Gaiden II kicks that up a notch.

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Swerve City, USA! I had deja vu for a second there. Looked like poor ol’ Ryu Hayabusa was once again going to be subdued by some anesthetic but instead he’s saved by the bell bullet. I guess you owe Robert TS the favor after all.

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Battling atop a boxcar train, you’ll have to fend off Jason Voorhees and friends. Watch the snow — the wind changes direction in three different ways. Jumping against the wind is a surefire ticket to an early demise.

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Duplicate yourself and even up the odds a bit with your clone helper. Up to two clones can be used. Nice!

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Arachnophobia? You won’t like this boss.

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Another cool cutscene advances the plot and builds up the anticipation for the next level.

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Disappointment (or relief, depending on one’s perspective) strikes in Stage 3-1. The original NES version had lightning flashes that made it more difficult and atmospheric, but for some strange reason, it was not duplicated in the SNES port. Many diehard fans have pointed out this omission over the years, citing it as the telltale sign of a lazy port job. Hey, at least we still get the ninja clones.

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Hayabusa continues his quest, this time in some rather murky waters.

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Things get a bit slippery here.

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Hayabusa or Ashtar — who will prevail? Only you can decide that!

NINJA GAIDEN III: THE ANCIENT SHIP OF DOOM

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Things open up blazing hot as Irene is seen being chased by… Ryu Hayabusa?! Wait, whaaaat?

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Falling to her demise, can it truly be the same Ryu we all know and love? Surely not…

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Framed — I knew it! [Sure ya did -Ed.].

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Players have complained that the jumps in the third game are too floaty. It does take a while to get used to, especially if you’re hot off the heels of playing the first two games. Generally speaking, Ninja Gaiden III is considered to be the weakest entry in the trilogy. Not that it’s a bad game; it’s just the first two were so damn good.

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There’s something about Ninja Gaiden III that I really like, though. The weird cybernetic atmosphere, for one. That and Ryu is a better climber here than he was in previous outings. I also like the extra long slash power up you can get. Able to hit enemies both high and low, it gives you excellent coverage for a short ranged attack.

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Clancy tells you to head over to Castle Rock. You’re a little skeptical but you press on in the name of avenging Irene…

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Quicksand has claimed many lives — move fast or you could be next! Better move fast too during the auto scrolling section. Death waits for no one!

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Destroy enemy bullets with a well-timed strike. I love when games let you do that. The boss fits in perfectly with the game’s cybernetic theme.

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Condescending? Check. Smug? Check. Good to see you again, Foster.

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Acquiring the right power up at the right time is key. One of my favorites is the energy blast that goes up and down. It can prove to be quite useful.

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Thankfully, the “jump back” when hit isn’t too bad in this game. Another reason why I like Ninja Gaiden III so much and don’t see it as the “black sheep” of the trilogy as some others do. The previous two games had some serious recoil action.

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Hayabusa be like, “So… you’re Great Value Ryu, eh?”

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Perhaps it’s just me but doesn’t Ninja Gaiden III have a slight Mega Man-esque look to it? Part of me almost expects to see some Mets flying in and out!

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Nothing’s better than beating a boss with one measly life bar remaining. What a rush!

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Overlooking Castle Rock, Ryu runs into Clancy once again. He tells you about a terrible monster named BIO-NOID. Coincidentally, the Biohazard plan Clancy has been working on is the same name as the Resident Evil franchise over in Japan. Clancy goes on to explain that there was an open seam between dimensions when the Demon died. Foster had rebuilt the fortress and was using it to conduct all sorts of transformation experiments with life energy. Bio-noids are super humans that have been transformed with life energy. He tells you that it was a Bio-noid that killed Irene and that you’re the only one strong enough to stop it.

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Infuriatingly difficult platforming abounds. Thank God for the password feature.

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Hayabusa confronts Foster but wait a minute — IRENE?!

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Somehow, Irene survived after all. Screw you, Foster!

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Remember the guy who framed Ryu? He turns into a super mutant only to be blasted by Irene. Show ‘im who’s boss!

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Eventually you step in and tell Irene you got this. Now it’s you vs. the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.

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Spoiler… Clancy was the mastermind behind it all.

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Explore more strange locales as you seek out to hunt down Clancy.

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Hayabusa’s clone isn’t quite dead yet…

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Shame this port wasn’t enhanced more visually. The SNES could do so much more with this background.

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Unfortunately, you’re a bit too late. Clancy has already made the life energy his and rambles on about the dimensional warship’s power.

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Thought the previous levels were hard enough? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Precise and skilled platforming is the order of the day.

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Genocide? Ryu ain’t down with that, Clancy. The time for talk is over.

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Defending the fate of the universe, it’s up to you to put an end to this monster’s wicked plans.

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Clancy’s true form is soon revealed…

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Konami would be proud. Slash that sucker!

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BLOODY HELL. You knew it couldn’t be that easy. Get ready for the final ultimate battle.

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There’s screen-filling bosses and then there’s this guy. Holy shit. It doesn’t get any crazier than both life bars going down to the wire… with you barely winning out. On the final boss no less. Best feeling in a video game!

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Sayonara, bitch!

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Hayabusa dropping some knowledge there!

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Regardless of how bad things may seem, never forget the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

REMEMBER WHEN…

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I certainly was not alone. Many kids can fondly recall seeing Ninja Gaiden at Toys R Us back in 1989. We loved it even if it kicked our asses. Then when the SNES came out in 1991, we just assumed the inevitability of a souped up 16-bit version. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Good-bye, dear old friend
Good-bye, dear old friend

Yes, I remember the days of scrolling down the game aisles at Toys R Us once upon a moon. The iconic toy store is currently closing for good in 2018. Kind of sad to think my future kids will never know what it’s like to walk up and down those magical aisles. Rest In Peace, TRU.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Ninja Gaiden Trilogy was met with mixed reviews. Some liked it for having all three classic NES platformers on one cartridge and the brand new password feature, but others did not like the cuts or mostly lazy effort. Even to this day, it remains quite the polarizing SNES title. EGM gave it scores of 8.5, 6.5, 6.5 and 6.0. Nowadays it fetches for a fair penny, so it’s hard to recommend it at the going rate unless you absolutely have to play a Ninja Gaiden game on your SNES.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I liked Ninja Gaiden Trilogy when I first played it back in 2006. I still like it even though the project could have been handled better. Whereas Super Mario All-Stars knocked it out of the park, Ninja Gaiden Trilogy is not the poster boy for how to properly present a compilation. But the three NES games included in this package are still playable and at their core, they’re still quality games. I love the password feature as it allows me to beat the game at my pace, and also encourages random revisiting throughout the years. The critics can hate on this game all they like — I still enjoy it very much and come back to it every so often.

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Although sadly not the Ninja Gaiden sequel we wanted or even the A+++ port we deserved, the games are still good enough to make this a redeeming package. Should it have been more? For sure. A Ninja Gaiden game on the SNES should be in the pantheon of Super Nintendo greats. This is far from that but in the end, I’m grateful to have it in my collection. And I’m not talking from a monetary stance. I still like playing these three games and always will. Sometimes we can get hung up on what isn’t rather than simply enjoying what is. In the case of Ninja Gaiden Trilogy — despite being slightly butchered — better to have it on the SNES than not at all.

Graphics: 5.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 7.5
Longevity: 6.5

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award

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Switched: How Nintendo Won Me Back

Nintendo made me a believer once more
Nintendo makes a believer out of me once more

In late 2016, Nintendo released a trailer highlighting their upcoming 7th console, the Nintendo Switch. To say that I was skeptical would have been a gross understatement. I had long lost faith in Nintendo, or at least in their current state. My brother and I grew up on the NES and the Super Nintendo. Both systems were amazing, giving us countless memories. The Nintendo 64 came along in 1996 and was a mixed bag. By the time the GameCube launched in late 2001, my brother and I stopped caring. Neither of the two Wii consoles were able to move the needle on my gaming meter. As for the PlayStation and XBox consoles, they surely had their share of gems but I honestly didn’t care enough to ever buy any of those systems. I was content with my SNES collection and assumed that my time buying games had long come to an end. That was, at least, until I finally played the Switch…

With the Switch, gaming has hit new heights
With the Switch, gaming has reached new heights

A NEW ERA — FINALLY

I thought I was done buying games. I was wrong...
I thought I was done buying games. I was wrong…

As it has been well documented here on RVGFanatic, I got back into the SNES scene nearly 12 years ago (January 2006). It’s been an incredible journey and I have played so many amazing games since then. I more or less finished my collection in 2012 and figured I was set for life. I had no interest in modern gaming. Not that I hated them but rather I just didn’t care enough to play them. That slowly began to change as I heard the rumblings for one, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The trailer, released in early 2017, was breathtaking. If any modern game can bring me back to the fold, Breath of the Wild might be it. For the first time in forever, I found myself salivating over a new game.

I was floored. It was the first time in nearly 12 years that I found myself thinking, “It might be time to buy another system.” I remember one night in March 2017 my bro sent me a funny picture of some guy on the internet declaring it was going to be an epic night. Sure looked like it!

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Talk about living the good life

Seeing that pic made me remember all the epic gaming adventures I had long long ago. It was that little seed planted in my head. The Switch launched on March 3, 2017. I didn’t buy one but I remember telling myself maybe Black Friday. Maybe. But I found no deals on the Switch and thus, Black Friday came and went. My brother, on the other hand, struck a bit of gold…

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Despite not owning a Switch, he spotted Breath of the Wild on Walmart’s website for the incredibly low price of $29. He jumped on it because he knew I had interest in buying a Switch. Apparently it was a mistake on the website — it was supposed to be marked down to $49 but he made the purchase before the website could correct itself. They honored their end and shipped the game out to him. Coincidentally, I read this on Reddit a few days ago…

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My brother was one of the lucky few
My brother was one of the lucky few

[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 2, 2017

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After visiting my month old nephew, I hit up the local Target only to be greeted by the last Switch console. I couldn’t resist and pulled the trigger. Final damage following a flurry of gift cards: $267. I walked out of Target cradling the Switch against my chest as though it were Frankenstein’s very own heart! It was my first system purchase in nearly 12 years :D

Oh I'm answering the call. Don't have to tell me twice!
Oh I’m answering the call. Don’t have to tell me twice!

Breath of the Wild arrived at my brother’s place later that day. It was like it was meant to be. I picked it up, drove back home, popped it in and was immediately blown away. Honestly, I hadn’t played a 3D “modern” game in forever. These past 12 years I stuck mainly to the SNES. Well, Breath of the Wild has definitely made me rethink my gaming habits. Although I still love and play the SNES, it certainly won’t be the only system I play going forward. Nintendo had officially converted me. I have, pardon the pun, made the switch.

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Right away I was flung into the wide open world of Hyrule. It literally took my breath away. Immersive is a word that gets thrown around a lot in gaming circles but I can’t think of a better adjective to describe this game. Best of all, it looks and plays great even on the portable end. In fact, I’ve been playing it only in this format thus far.

The older I get, the less time I have to do this
The older I get, the less I have time to do this

As I get older and busier, I find I have less and less time to sit in front of a TV to play a game. The portability makes it perfect to play for 20 minutes while laying in bed before sleeping. It’s also ideal to play while having a TV show on in the background. It’s truly a game changer. The Switch is a versatile little sucker and it’s portable gaming the likes of which we have never seen before. We have come a long way since the Game Boy and Game Gear, haven’t we?

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I began going through the shrines and giggling like a little school girl on the inside. I could tell it was the beginning of an unforgettable gaming experience.

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Acquiring new skills and weapons is all part of the fun. Each new power gained opened up even more possibilities.

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Hunting for food or shooting enemies from afar became highly addicting.

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I’m only 12 hours in or so but already I feel like this is easily one of the top 10 (if not 5) best games I have ever played. Quite frankly, maybe even #1.

[MONDAY] DECEMBER 4, 2017

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But there was no rest for the weary. A few days later, I went to Best Buy to pick up Doom for $53 following my 20% discount. I haven’t been able to play Doom yet because I want to beat Zelda first. But rest assured, having missed the 2016 version of Doom and hearing what a competent amazing port the Switch version is, I cannot bloody wait to dig into this one!

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[WEDNESDAY] DECEMBER 6, 2017

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I honestly thought I would just have Breath of the Wild and Doom for now. But you know how these things work. There’s a snowball effect when something comes along and completely captures your imagination. A few days after picking up Doom, my brother told me GameStop was selling Rayman Legends for only $25.

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I have Rayman on the Sega Saturn and have always enjoyed it. Plus, the Switch version received rave reviews, so I decided to swing by the local GameStop after work to pick it up. Unfortunately, the GameStop I went to was sold out. But the clerk said there was another location nearby that had 3 copies left. That store happened to be at my childhood mall!

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I can’t count the number of times my mom took me to this mall when I was a kid. Every Friday after school we went. It was sort of a tradition of ours. Rain or shine. Seeing the tall Christmas tree there always brings back memories of the mall Santa back in the day. Although the mall has been renovated over the years, the core structure remains. It never fails to bring back a memory or two.

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Making the walk down this way was something of a spiritual experience, as sad as that may sound. I’ve walked that path thousands of time. It was always visit Suncoast first, followed by Software Etc., KB Toys, Walden Books and Cyberstation. Being here again brought back a ton of nostalgia for me, and reminded me of my early SNES hunting days back in 2006. The thrill and excitement hanging in the air. That feeling of knowing you were going to come away with a brand new game to add to the ole collection. Hopping around town snatching up games left and right like a mad man. It was more than just collecting games. It was reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood in whole new ways.

How I remember thee, Suncoast
How I remember thee, Suncoast
This was THE place to be on a Saturday night back then
This was THE place to be on a Friday night back then

A montage of these classic childhood sights and sounds suddenly flashed in my mind as I entered GameStop and picked up Rayman Legends at the counter. It was now my 3rd Switch game in nearly as many days. Yep, I could feel it coming. And there was no stopping it. I had Switch fever!

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[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 9, 2017

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I visited Target the next day to pick up a few things. I had absolutely ZERO intentions of buying another Switch game but lo and behold, there I found Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 on sale for $39.99. Before I knew it, a 4th game was added to my rapidly growing Switch library.

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I texted my brother about my latest purchase and he said I had gone nuts. He was probably right. But damn was I having fun!

Switch collection ASSEMBLE! [Really? -Ed.]
Switch collection ASSEMBLE! [Really? -Ed.]

[SUNDAY] DECEMBER 10, 2017

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After buying Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, I thought to myself, “OK now I’m really done. For a while at least.” Well, a while turned out to be less than 24 hours later. The following day, my brother texted me that Toys R Us was selling Lego City Undercover for just $19.99. Lego in a GTA (Grand Theft Auto) setting? Count me in!

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While Toys R Us was processing my online pickup order, I searched the web on my iPhone only to discover that Fry’s Electronics was selling Resident Evil Revelations Collection for only $29.99. And of course, there just happened to be a Fry’s down the road from Toys R Us. So I drove over to Fry’s to buy Resident Evil Revelations Collection. Then drove back to Toys R Us to pick up Lego City Undercover. I felt like an absolute mad man; I haven’t done this much game hunting in 10 years!

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Quite an extreme contrast  between my two latest buys
Quite an extreme contrast between my two latest buys!

While at Fry’s hunting down Resident Evil Revelations Collection, I ran across Axiom Verge for $29.99. I was tempted to add it to my tab. Axiom Verge caught my eye a few years back and I was always curious about it. But a quick search revealed Toys R Us selling it for $29.99 plus a 15% discount. I was hoping to pick it up at the Toys R Us location I just bought Lego City Undercover from, but unfortunately they didn’t have one in stock. The closest pick up location was… *gasp*… the old Toys R Us store from my childhood!

Always wanted to play this. Now I finally can!
Always wanted to play this. Now I finally can!

[MONDAY] DECEMBER 11, 2017

Ah, the vintage train tracks of my childhood :)
Ah, the vintage train tracks of my childhood :)
Come on, let's go! I got a Switch game to pick up!
Come on, let’s go! I got a Switch game to pick up!

Going to my childhood Toys R Us meant passing through this old haunt. My cousins lived in the neighborhood nearby and I spent much of my youth visiting my cousins on the weekends back in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. Needless to say, that whole area is incredibly nostalgic to me. It’s also where I experienced the greatest Halloween of my life back in 1994. The infamous night I met “The Lady in the Haunted House” AKA Becky, who has gone on to become a lifelong friend. I actually just met up with Becky a few weeks ago. Going through the old neighborhood was just an added bonus to my jaunt for Axiom Verge.

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I stood there for a moment to just admire the scene. This was the same Toys R Us my parents took me and my brother to millions of times back in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. It was probably 10 years since I had last been there. At that point, it was one of the few relics from my past still standing in the same spot!

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Who doesn’t remember the classic Toys R Us game slips back in the day? Seeing an aisle plastered with them was like a little slice of Heaven. Some of my fondest childhood memories came from simply strolling through the aisles drooling at the game covers all bug-eyed. Nothing topped the feeling of when your parents relented and bought you a game! Taking that slip out of its sleeve, only to discover it’s the LAST one, and taking it to the special game counter to claim your precious pixelated prize. Cue the Final Fantasy victory theme!

I remember seeing NES games like Dr. Chaos
I remember seeing NES game slips like Dr. Chaos
Chakan on the Genesis
As well as Chakan on the Genesis
And Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
And Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on SNES

Sadly, Toys R Us long stopped doing the game slips. Nonetheless, being there brought back the wave of memories. I also ran into two versions of Goldar from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: OG Goldie and that crappy looking version from the 2017 movie.

What is this mess?
What mess is this?!
Now thats what Im talking about
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about

Ah, Imaginext. In 2004 I ran across a bunch of their sets on clearance from the same Toys R Us location. Huge sets going for literally $5. I remember bringing home a bunch of the sets and my ex being bewildered!

I still have them unopened. Saving for my future son
I still have them unopened. Saving for my future son

After walking around the store for 15 minutes or so just taking it all in, I made my way to the pickup counter. I cannot wait to play Axiom Verge but first I have to beat Breath of the Wild :P

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Not a bad deal at $27! It looks awesome.

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Before pulling out of the parking lot, I stood there to admire my childhood Toys R Us one last time. Even though the inside has long been gutted and rearranged, there were pockets in the store where I remember standing some 25, 30 years ago! R.I.P. Toys R Us.

CHRISTMAS 2017

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It’s been forever since I’ve played a newer Mario game. I know I’ve missed out on many great Mario games since 1991’s Super Mario World, so Super Mario Odyssey will certainly make up for some of that lost time.

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[SATURDAY] DECEMBER 23, 2017

Thanks Cindy!
Jackpot! What a great Christmas present :)

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Earlier in the day I was able to price match Puyo Puyo Tetris and Ninjago at Target. Both were going for $39.99 but Toys R Us was selling both for $19.99. Thanks Toys R Us!

Gotta love that Target price match
Gotta love that Target price match!

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[SATURDAY] JANUARY 13, 2018

SkyrimSwi

I received a $25 gift card for Amazon and used it on Skyrim, a game I’ve never played before but can’t wait to dig into. It ended up costing only $35.99.

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[SUNDAY] JANUARY 14, 2018

I had been wanting to buy this game badly...
I had been wanting to buy this game badly…

I spent the weekend out of town with my girlfriend. I was browsing Nintendo Switch Deals on Reddit (shout out!) on a lazy Sunday morning when I came across this promising post…

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Lady Luck was on my side as my girlfriend’s town happened to be one of the 63 stores closing down! I was cautiously optimistic but I figured the game I wanted most (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) would be long sold out. Eh, it can’t hurt to try, right…

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After waiting in line (just to enter the store) for some odd 30 minutes, we were finally in. I made a beeline for the electronics section. Lo and behold, I spotted the last copy sitting before my eyes! I bought Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms.

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I was so happy that I was able to get the last copy of Mario Kart. The rush of adrenaline as we snagged the final copy (and picked up Arms as well) lasted all the way on the drive home. A most serendipitous Sunday!

SamClu

Thanks for taking care of me, Jennifer!

NoireSwi

Later  that same night, I dropped by Target to buy L.A. Noire. I had a gift card and paid $38.

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Taking place in Los Angeles in the late ’40s, L.A. Noire is another “modern” game I missed out on but can now play thanks to my Switch.

(e)SHOP ‘TIL YA DROP

Ah, my first two eShop purchases
Ah, my first two eShop purchases

On Christmas morning 2017, the floodgates were opened when I made my very first eShop purchase. Here are my 34 digital games in order of purchase.

Stardew Valley (Harvest Moon fans unite!)
Stardew Valley (Harvest Moon fans unite!)
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon
Oxenfree
Oxenfree
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Volgarr the Viking
Volgarr the Viking
Oceanhorn
Oceanhorn
The Mummy Demastered
The Mummy Demastered
Butcher
Butcher
Shock Troopers
Shock Troopers
Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad
Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad
Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy
Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy
Spinmaster
Spinmaster
Double Dragon IV
Double Dragon IV
The Count Lucanor
The Count Lucanor
Street Hoop
Street Hoop
Metal Slug
Metal Slug
Pulstar
Pulstar
Blazing Star
Blazing Star
Last Resort
Last Resort
World Heroes
World Heroes
Mutation Nation
Mutation Nation
Robo Army
Robo Army
Rocket League
Rocket League
Steamworld Dig 2
SteamWorld Dig 2
Retro City Rampage
Retro City Rampage
Blaster Master Zero
Blaster Master Zero
Mighty Gunvolt Burst
Mighty Gunvolt Burst
Caveman Warriors
Caveman Warriors
King of the Monsters
King of the Monsters
Double Dragon
Double Dragon
World Heroes 2
World Heroes 2
Celeste
Celeste
Samurai Shodown II
Samurai Shodown II
Magician Lord
Magician Lord

SOME GAMES I’LL BUY IN 2018

Wolfenstein II
Wolfenstein II
Mega Man 11
Mega Man 11
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Holy shit!

Yoshi
Yoshi
Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei V
Dragon Warrior XI
Dragon Warrior XI
Metal Slug 2 (or X)
Metal Slug X
Metal Slug 3
Metal Slug 3
Fatal Fury Special
Fatal Fury Special
Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Golf Story
Golf Story
Mr. Shifty
Mr. Shifty

And so much more. The Switch’s future is bright and the possibilities are endless. Welcome back to my heart, Nintendo. Welcome back!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

ZelBotW4

It’s hard for me to believe that I would ever feel so invested in a system not named Super Nintendo, especially in the year 2017. But the Switch has made a believer out of me. Being able to play all these amazing games on the go as well as on the big screen TV is a brilliant stroke of ingenuity. Its versatility caters to your lifestyle, as it should, rather than you catering to a system’s limitations. As much as I still love my SNES, I’ll admit there are times where I’m just not in the mood to sit by my TV to play. There are times where I wish I could just play it in bed or during a show. The Switch allows you to do so. Nintendo has something big on its hands here, as evident by the Switch recently surpassing the 10 million units sold mark. This is truly the future wave of gaming.

ZelBotW9

If you’ve been teetering on the fence with the Switch, it’s time to hop over. It has the same impeccable Nintendo magic that I remember the NES and SNES having back in the ’80s and ’90s. Hell, over time I can even possibly see the Switch overtaking the SNES as my favorite system of all time. Never in a million years did I ever think I would say that. If Nintendo eventually releases some of their SNES classics on the Switch eShop going forward then all bets are off. The Switch is poised for unprecedented success, merging gamers from all generations. Its legacy as one of the coolest systems ever is quickly being etched in stone by the day. Don’t miss out! Nintendo is BACK baby and damnit, they might be better than ever.

Tecmo Super Bowl (SNES)

Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Tecmo | November 1993 | 8 MEGS
Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Tecmo | November 1993 | 8 MEGS

Admittedly, I’m not a huge football guy. Never have been. Baseball and basketball are my go-to sports. But I always make it a point to catch the Super Bowl each year. Last night, which saw the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons battle for football supremacy in Houston, was one of the best damn games I’ve ever seen. An incredible 31 unanswered points and the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, Tom Brady captured his unprecedented fifth Super Bowl Championship (more than any other quarterback in the history of the NFL). Whether you love or hate him, you have to respect the track record. Watching the game last night inspired me to break out Tecmo Super Bowl, AKA the best football game on the Super Nintendo. Let’s stroll down memory lane…

What a game last night!
What a finish last night! A comeback for the ages, wow
Hey, that's eerily similar...
Hey, that’s eerily reminiscent…

TECMO BOWL MANIA

TecmoBowlBox

Tecmo Bowl was unleashed February 1989. This month marks its 28th birthday. My brother was obsessed with this game. Tecmo Bowl mania swept the nation as kids everywhere were glued to their TV monitors night and day. I wasn’t a football fan at the time so the game never appealed to me, but I remember the many nights that my brother stayed up late playing this game. It became something of a religion for him and countless others all across America.

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Two years later, the (superior) sequel landed and despite the SNES having just been released, Tecmo Super Bowl caused many NES owners to keep their old friend plugged in. My brother played this game to death. Tecmo finally converted this game over to the SNES in November of 1993. It never made the big splash its little NES brothers did, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your time.

One of the best NES games ever
One of the best NES games ever

LET’S PLAY SOME FOOTBALL!

Fancy logo and "mascot"
Fancy logo and “mascot”
Some cool shots follow this
Some cool shots follow this

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Rematch of last night's game!
Rematch of last night’s game!
The classic kick off
The classic kick off
Love those new spiffy end zones
Love those new spiffy end zones
Vintage Tecmo Super Bowl
Vintage Tecmo Super Bowl

Here is the beauty of Tecmo Super Bowl: it’s simple and instantly accessible to all. Even if you don’t know a whole lot about football, like me, you can still have a lot of fun with this one. You get eight plays to pick from. Four passing, four running. Then the opponent tries to guess which one you picked. If they guess right then it’ll be a lot easier for them to stop you. You have to look at the game situation and guess whether your rival will run or pass. After that you have a 1 in 4 chance. Good stuff.

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Passing in the pocket? Try not to force the ball where there are defenders. Switch off to an open teammate like you see here and throw the ball his way.

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Always satisfying to see that FIRST DOWN! flashing.

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Speaking of satisfying, throwing a bullet to a wide open receiver and seeing him haul it in for a big gain was simply the best. I also like the white X marker and knowing your guy is about to make a huge catch. It’s the little things!

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Seeing your guy sprint into the opponent’s end zone never gets old. The SNES version gets these cool detailed end zones while the NES versions were a bit plain Jane. It’s not a deal breaker or anything, but I prefer the presentation of this game over the NES ones. Plus, that TOUCHDOWN! graphic is gold.

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Taunting time! It’s also kind of fun to see old names from the past.

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Bouncing the ball off the field goal post and through always led to a sigh of relief.

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INTERCEPTION! Depending on which side of the coin you are, it can either pump new life into your team or completely demoralize it. Especially when you see the ball sail just past the outstretched arms of your receiver.

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Likewise, these moments can mean the difference between victory and defeat. As they say: football is a game of inches… [And so is dating -Ed.]

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Bizarre and nonsensical. At any rate, the Patriots lead 7-3 at the half.

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Falcons open the second half in stellar fashion. It’s so sweet when your guy has a wide open field like this. Unless of course, if it’s happening against you!

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Atlanta jumps on top, 10-7. I really like how this game received the Super Mario All-Stars treatment. It’s essentially the NES version but with 1993 rosters and much improved visuals. Love those end zones.

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Seeing one of your receivers break free and make himself wide open for a bullet pass is another part I take great pleasure in.

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Running it into the end zone like a boss. 14-10 Patriots!

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Certain big plays, like a quarterback sack, triggers a cinematic shot.

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Hitting a streaking player for a big gain never failed to get you pumped. Even better is the visual of 10 savages trailing you like a pack of hungry wolves eyeing a piece of meat. Oh, and barely running past two diving defenders. Epic.

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Punch it in the end zone and kick the extra point. 21-17 Patriots.

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Offensive and defensive accomplishments are treated dramatically.

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Almost as dramatic as last night’s Super Bowl! Down 4 points with under a minute to go, Miller tries to connect with Williams during the most important drive of his career. Miller spots his target and throws a bullet pass. It looks like Williams is about to make an amazing diving catch to save the game but alas, INTERCEPTION! You can imagine how intense 2 player games can get…

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Similar to last night’s insane Super Bowl game, the Patriots barely squeak ahead. A final stats screen is shown at the end.

“WEATHER” IT’S RAINY OR SNOWY…

New weather effects, yeah!
New weather effects, yeah!

The NES versions didn’t have this cool feature. OK, so it doesn’t affect gameplay (too bad, it should have). But hey, more options never hurt even if it’s just cosmetic. And quite frankly, I love the rain in particular. It lends Tecmo Super Bowl a lovely little atmosphere!

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Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past rain this is not. But it’s not shabby!

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Check out how the rain splatters against the grass. It’s a really nice effect and makes playing this game during a rainy Sunday morning extra fun. Hell, you even see rain in the cut scenes. Neat!

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Sometimes a play will be spliced in with a cut scene and only adds to the drama of the whole thing. These moments are handled perfectly. They’re seamless rather than intrusive. And let’s face it, they’re just plain fun.

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Gorgeous! Gotta love that heavy rain. What could have been if only the Falcons kicked a field goal last night… tsk tsk…

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Giving the snow some love too, although it’s not as impressive.

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Definitely adds a nice flair, especially if you play this while it’s actually snowing outside.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Most fans tend to cite NES Tecmo Super Bowl as the definitive version, but there are a handful that vouch for the SNES version. EGM gave it scores of 8, 7, 7, 6 and 6. Some were a bit disappointed that you still can’t switch defenders once a play is live. Or the fact that you can’t grab the ball out of the air on a booted pass. And speaking of missed opportunities, there’s no sound effect for the rain. Imagine how much better it would have been if you could hear the pitter-patter of the rain drops. I suppose one can’t have it all, eh?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Tecmo Super Bowl is the best SNES football game you can play. It’s got fast and crisp gameplay, a playbook to customize your own set of plays, a battery backed season mode (I love how you can play a season in literally a single weekend), improved 16-bit visuals, and a couple new options the NES version never had. These include a diving play (handy for when you’re half a yard short of a touchdown or first down) and a touchback option. I’m not the biggest football fan but I love this game and would probably rate it even higher if I were a complete football nut.

It’s the kind of game you can pick up and play whenever, then forget about for a while but months or even years later come roaring back and find yourself spending a weekend or two with. There’s something magical about that. I also like that the games don’t take long; you can sneak in a quick game before bed. Also, injuries can occur if you play the season mode. When a player is healthy to return, you get an amusing cut scene of said player leaving the hospital (Tecmo Hospital, naturally) waving to his doctor and nurses. He’s armed with a bouquet of flowers and is decked out in his full football uniform, as if these guys wear their jerseys while recovering in the hospital. This scene never fails to make me smile. That and it’s always great to get an injured star player back!

Gets me every time! :)
Gets me every single damn time!  :)

Tecmo Super Bowl has earned its legend for a good reason. I think the SNES version is awesome and easily the best football title on the Super Nintendo. The Tecmo Super Bowl sequels weren’t as great and some of the Madden games are very good but it’s tough to beat the arcade action of a Tecmo Super Bowl. Sorry — this game definitely scores a touchdown!

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Longevity: 9.5

Overall: 9.0

Gold Award
Gold Award

 

 

 

Few games have infiltrated pop culture like Tecmo (Super) Bowl.

And because it’s football, and it’s awesome:

Damn that theme never gets old. Timeless! Just like Tecmo Super Bowl :)

Contra (NES)

It's the game that got me into games -- for life
An essential video game of the ’80s, Contra stands the test of time

For many kids growing up in the mid-late 1980s it was all about Mario and his chums. I was a fan myself, but the one game that really cemented me as a video game fan for life was Konami’s Contra. The gun-slinging, alien-shooting atmosphere was off the charts, with incredible graphics, sound and gameplay. And unlike Mario, two could play at once. In short, it was a senses-shattering, adrenaline-filled action thriller. It was the kind of game you talked to your buds about on the playground at recess. The kind you never get tired of beating again and again, provided you had a friend firing alongside you every step of the way.

Tonight we take a trip down memory lane, recalling along the way the memorable nasties, the unforgettable little moments, and why this game has stood the test of time.

A FREAKY COINCIDENCE

This tribute piece was originally written almost 10 years ago now, back on February 9, 2008. As I was writing it, I decided to search when Contra was first released on the NES. I kid you not, the date was *drum roll please* February 9, 1988. So exactly 20 years later, to the very day, I was commemorating Contra. It’s one of those freaky coincidences that prove there are indeed greater and mysterious forces at work here.

I made this back on February 9, 2008
I made this back on February 9, 2008

And although RVGFanatic is mainly a platform where I share my passion for all things Super Nintendo, I’m happy to occasionally honor games that didn’t appear on the SNES at all. Contra is the first game of a brand new section on the site entitled “Random Retro.” And I can’t think of a finer first game than this.

THE INFAMOUS KONAMI CODE

Who could ever forget this?
Who could ever forget this?

Ah the classic Konami code which gave you 30 men. Ask any serious Nintendo fan about the code and they’ll recite it for ya on cue (select, start for 2 players).

THE JUNGLE

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The first stage is the very memorable jungle romp. Indeed, it was always amusing to us young kids how your guy was as big as the trees themselves!

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One of the great things you first notice are all the convenient angles you can fire at. It made you never look at games where the hero could only shoot across quite the same ever again, yeah?

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For some reason this silly mechanical bridge really captivated my imagination as a youth. My brother and I would often see who could cross it successfully, sort of a game-within-a-game type thing, yeah.

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Uh, yeah, I meant to fall off that collapsing bridge. Of course I did…

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Each time I saw him my mind would wander to such thoughts as “How did he luck out to get that hiding spot? It sure beats running in the wide open like some kamikaze soldier!” Ah, the thoughts we had as kids, eh?

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about
I know I sure haven't
I know I sure haven’t

This first towering boss really set the tone for what the rest of the game would turn out to be. Contra simply tickles the imagination. It’s a world where massive monstrosities call home and where being a deft action megastar is the only ticket out alive.

This was an amazing sight back in 1988!
This was an amazing sight back in 1988!

At the end of the jungle lies this humongous base. I remember thinking what a huge boss it was at that time, and if I wasn’t sold yet, I was now. A sucker for any sort of elaborate Lego base or set, I was blown away by how cool this imposing structure appeared.

First order of business is to eliminate the entry soldier up top. Next, take out the two turrets, which spits out lovely red gumballs. Seriously, was I the only one who thought they looked like giant red gumballs?

Always love me a good spread
Always love me a good spread

Indeed. After clearing the two turrets, wipe the base plate out and proceed onto level two. What great horrors and thrills await you there?

BASE ONE

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This scene blew my mind back in 1988. It was like nothing I had ever seen before on the ole 8-bit NES. Like all of the game’s levels, to this day I can hum level two’s theme.

Simply riveting stuff back in '88
My imagination ran wild at the horrors laying ahead
Wow, this was mind blowing back in '88!
Wow, this was mind blowing back in ’88!

Boss number two is yet another awe-worthy gigantic structure. First you must blow away the pods. Once you do, look at the black screen for a good luck message… or at least yet another notable boss, anyhow.

Shades of Cobra from G.I. Joe!
Shades of Cobra from G.I. Joe!

Oh I know you can hear the music right about now, yes? Don’t deny it. You can even recall the sound that occurs every time you die, can’t you? Good stuff. Except that dying part, though.

We called this boss “Snakey” or “Snake Breath.” No explanation needed… just look at him! To this day I can see him zooming across his tiny black space back and forth, desperately spewing his venomous breath. This game was chalk full with memorable bosses. They stay with you even nearly 30 years later. Jeez!

WATERFALL

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Stage three… gotta make your way up to the top of this treacherous mountain. Keep your eyes peeled and your guns ready.

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The classic rocks-falling-down bit. Remember to keep pace with player 2
(if applicable). The bottom of the screen in 2-player mode acts as sort of an invisible pool of burning lava.

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Another cool part. Those two small fires move back and forth while turrets and soldiers from above try their damnedest to take you out.

Thankfully you’ve got that invulnerable icon there…

Capitalizing on the Running Man trend of the late '80s!
Capitalizing on the Running Man phenomenon!

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After a lengthy and arduous journey some 5,000 feet up this mountain top, you have to deal with the guardian from Hell…

MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN
MAMA MIA!

YIKES! What a beast this guy is. Nobody could do bosses quite like Konami. That was their M.O., no? First you gotta take out his two limbs.

MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN
MIND.OFFICIALLY.BLOWN

Then once that’s done, blow his gawd damn jaw off! You can actually position yourself where you’re able to hit him and he just misses you. An easy bloke, but a damn impressive and highly unforgettable one. He’s one of my favorite bosses of all time. I remember my reaction the first time my bro and I saw him: “WHOA!”

Beat him and proceed safely to level four. Wow, we’re not even halfway through and already this game is killing it! No wonder it’s one of the best games of all time.

BASE TWO

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A reprise of level two, but a bit tougher and nastier. Don’t touch the electric ropes, and don’t stay in one spot for too long!

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I just love that vast bleakness up ahead, as well as the little specks of red there. A really nice touch that makes it seem very ominous, indeed. Really accentuates the feeling of stepping into the great wide unknown…

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Watch out for the dough rollers as I used to call it back in the day. Hey, that’s what they looked like to me!

Blackness peppered with ominous red... oooh
Blackness peppered with ominous red… oooh
Konami you bastards. You did it again
Konami you bastards. You did it again

This is what lies ahead! Just like the boss of level two, except now with two heads to contend with! Again, you must destroy the pods. Some Eagle Men (as we kids called them) swoop down upon you in the process.

This was a somewhat tough boss as the little bubble shots it spewed required impeccable skill to successfully dodge. In typical classic boss fashion, once weakened, it’ll start to flash red.

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Damn right it reminded me of the Autobots and Decepticons. Man, you had Transformers, Nintendo and bloody Hulk Hogan all ruling the ’80s. What a time to be alive, eh?

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Pretty damn similar, no? I liked how the red brain pulsated harder and harder the weaker it got. It made it more intense as if the thing was going to explode into a million bloody pieces!

SNOWFIELD

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Brrr… you may not need a jacket but you will need lots of skill and luck.

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Oh sure he seems harmless enough. But then factor in foot soldiers running up your back end [that sounds… painful -Ed.] and suddenly it’s not so easy now is it?

Not Yoda. Just only way to fit that text in, ha!
Not Yoda. That’s just so that the text can fit, ha!
They finally shoot back for a change
They finally shoot back for a change
Yah, you definitely need a potent firearm, or two players!
You definitely need a potent firearm, or two players!
We kids called this the UFO Boss. Creative, huh?
We kids called this the UFO Boss. Creative, huh?

ENERGY ZONE

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I like how each of the game’s locales has a slightly different look and feel. Aside from the two base stages, no two levels look alike. Gotta appreciate that.

Patience is required in level six
Patience is required in level six due to these flames
Awesome set piece!
Awesome set piece! Stay focused, or else…
Run through them like a knife through hot butter
Run through them like a knife through hot butter

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Remember Larami Corp’s Super Soaker lineup? Very popular stuff circa 1992-’93. First there was the orange Super Soaker 50 if memory serves right, then the OMG ultra-cool Super Soaker 100 which EVERY kid on my block had to have. My bro was the first to buy one and of course, he became a legend within our circle of friends. Good times.

They don't make 'em like they used to
They don’t make ‘em like they used to

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Little subtle touches like this tile floor changing colors right before a gigantic boss fight don’t go unnoticed. It’s the little details that make a game for me.

Well said
Well said

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Nobody did bosses like Konami did. You could say that they were the boss of that domain… [You’re fired -Ed.]

Somebody's been eating their Wheaties
Somebody’s been eating their Wheaties

Good ole 1988-1989. The year I was in Kindergarten. At the table with the big white styrofoam blocks I would share my tales with my friends of the battles I had with the “50 foot tall purple and orange alien monster.” My friends looked on with eyes wide open, urging me to continue my story. Just imagine this little six-year-old story teller will ya!

On a side note, back in 2008 I visited my old Kindergarten classroom to help out for a day. The teacher, remarkably, in her old age still somehow remembered me: an impromptu 20 year reunion! It was simply surreal. I looked over at the corner and saw that 1989 scene replay in my head — where I was weaving magic by the campfire about this Contra baddie. Mmm. Some things just stay with you forever.

HANGAR

This was my favorite stage of them all
This was my favorite stage of them all

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The imagery this level had was highly compelling to say the very least. Rolling mine carts, trident-esque hooks, hi-tech computer-y interior… there was just something about it that left a lasting impression.

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I love the spiked walls that would pop out of the ground. Sometimes weapons may get caught in-between as well. It’s a small detail, but they really do add up.

[Psssst. Manute Bol FTW -Ed.]
[Shoot. Manute Bol FTW. R.I.P. big man -Ed.]
Remember, I made these pics back in 2008!
Remember, I made these pics back in early 2008!
DUM DA DUM DUM!
DUM DA DUM DUM!
I love these damn spiked walls too much
I love these damn spiked walls too much
Contra is one macho video game
Damn right it is!

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You know, I think Konami might have been obsessed a little bit with stars. Almost every stage is outdoors and features stars. Red, orange, green, blue…

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Foot soldiers come trampling out the door and from behind, all while the turrets below sprout up fireworks. Two players really come in handy here, believe that!

ALIEN LAIR

Stage 8 is short and sweet
Stage 8 is short and sweet

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Ah yes, who could ever forget this epic mini-boss. We called him “The Long Neck Alien Monster” — catchy, huh? I remember not being able to eat shrimp for a while after seeing this monstrosity for the very first time!

Like I said, I made these pics back in 2008...
Like I said, I made these pics back in 2008…

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This last level didn’t host very many baddies but they were all  memorable due to their distinctly demented nature. As well as they should be, seeing as how the level takes place in an alien’s lair. It perfectly captures the foreboding mood of a giant mother alien waiting for you at level’s end…

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This is it. The final stand, the last whistle. My brother and I always had to kill all four pods before attacking the heart; it’s much more fun that way. Destroy the Red Falcon‘s heart to restore peace to the universe.

"ONE OF US HAS TO DIE!!!"
“ONE OF US HAS TO DIE!!!”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thanks for all the memories, Contra
Thanks for all the memories, Contra

NES Contra remains one of my all-time favorite video games. I credit it as the game that hooked me for life. I always enjoyed video games prior to playing Contra, but it was Contra that blew my mind in a way no other video game before it was able to do. My brother Kevin, my uncle Jimmy and I played it to death. Though oddly, as much as we loved it, we never bought it back in the day. But thanks to a mom ‘n pop shop called Evergreen Video, we must have rented it half a dozen times. Plus borrowing our friend’s copy, but of course we had to loan him our copy of Legendary Wings – a fair trade if there ever was one ;)

Contra steamrolled its competition in 1988
Contra steamrolled its competition in 1988

Each of the eight stages have their own unique quirks and little details you can’t help but fondly remember. It’s the sign of not just a great game, but one that somehow sticks with you for a lifetime. They are far and few between. Playing Contra is akin to going about your daily routine as usual, only to inhale a whiff of a comforting scent that takes you back to a certain period in your youth. A much calmer time when things weren’t so hectic and chaotic. A more innocent time if you will. Contra conjures memories of ’80s yore, and reminds you of why you love video games in the first place.

Where's Godzilla when ya need him?!
Where’s Godzilla when ya need him?!

Who could forget the sights and sounds? Konami were maestros. 25+ years later the tunes are still stuck in my head, and the bosses are firmly planted in my heart. Nobody could do bosses like Konami. They knew just how to spark your imagination, and really brought the enemies and end level guardians to life. Never have I played a game where we talked about the bosses as much as we did with Contra. They were awe-inspiring, gruesome and unforgettable. Killing them always felt so satisfying, and if you were anything like me, you shared “war stories” about it with your friends as if it were a genuine badge of honor. The game had, and still has, that special connection with gamers the world over. That is partly why we cherish it so, even nearly 30 years later.

Until we meet again, my friend...
Until we meet again, my friend…

From telling my friends in Kindergarten about my battles with the 50 foot tall purple and orange monster to the many nights my brother, uncle and I spent locked up in the gaming room blowing up alien chunks, I will never forget the fond memories I have of Contra. But it’s not just nostalgia talking. This is still a damn EXCELLENT game. One of the best on the 8-bit Nintendo in my humble estimation. Its gameplay fares well to this day, and it has a unique aura about it all its own. Mario? Yeah don’t get me wrong, the Italian plumber is cool and all, but here’s the game that made me a video game fan for life. Here’s the game that turned boys into men. And here’s the game that damnit, just might be my favorite NES game of all time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to blasting some alien ass. Boo-yah!