My uncle, the same crazy uncle who introduced me to Halloween as a kid, took me and my brother to Target one night in 1989. At that time we had our Nintendo for a good two years. I vividly recall browsing the toy section, gawking at the latest in the DINO RIDERS lineup. I had just seen the cartoon which I thought was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Then, as tradition dictated it, we migrated from the toy section to the video game center. Upon seeing the epic Karnov box, we immediately fell in love with the exotic art. Our uncle took notice of our excitement and bought the game on the spot without either one of us even needing to beg him. That was good ol’ Uncle Jimmy for ya, always the super cool uncle saint that he was.
We came rushing home that night, mom in the doorway berating my uncle for buying us the game. As always, he played it cool and managed to diffuse the situation. Back then Uncle Jimmy played his fair spot of games too, and I fondly remember how the three of us retired to the gaming room for the evening. We began alternating play, though mostly my brother Kevin played. Luckily it turned out to be a good game and not a dud, which was always a risk when basing your purchase decisions solely off the art of a box cover. But that’s how it was in those olden days, you see. You relied on your friends, your local mom and pop shop, and your gut instincts. We never could beat Karnov, but we always had a blast trying. We’ve long since passed it on to our cousin David, Uncle Jimmy’s son, and David has long since lost the game to the sands of time. But I will always remember the fun times we shared with Karnov — from that innocent night at Target to all the evenings spent between the three of us trying our damnedest to beat the game once and for all.
Anyone remember this? I wanted to buy it but since we had the NES game my parents never did.
Instead I got this lousy piece of crap. OK it wasn’t THATbad; I spent quite a few road trips playing this in the backseat after all, but I bet it ain’t no Karnov!
Long before he turned to the dark side, Karnov was a brave and vigilant soul. Let’s check it out…
Magically transported here via a lightning bolt, right away I knew Karnov would not disappoint. The dragon statue there set the mood proper, and the three of us — my uncle, my brother and myself — were off and running.
These icons add some extra depth and strategy to the game. They have different effects and finding out which one works best where will go a long way in seeing you through. The ladder allows you to reach items you couldn’t otherwise. Simply climb down and the ladder is safely back in your inventory. Sweet.
Remember how they seemed to laugh at you as they threw their rocks? It’s funny how we recall the smallest most obscure memories…
But as soon you open fire, it springs to life firing right back at ya. I love the bizarre baddies in Karnov. The game has a certain weird and charming quasi-Gothic atmosphere to it, and the enemy roster is one major reason why.
See? Welcome to bizarre-o world!
This guy (er, girl?) is strange as hell.
As a kid I found this first boss wildly fascinating. What’s that funky green thing he shoots at you anyway? And where’s it coming from? Hmmm, perhaps better not to know eh?
In an era where many action games felt hindered by rigid control, maneuvering the fiery Russian was a breath of fresh air. Rarely did I feel like blaming my failures in this game on the control. For a big guy, Karnov sure can move!
Duck and shoot rapidly left and right… Karnov can do it all.
This boss reminds me of Rowdain from Super Castlevania IV. I love the detail of the lion being green — the whole game just oozes an exotic, mythical atmosphere, as the box art suggested. Nice for a change that a cool box art did not deceive us!
You can either climb the tree or jump on it. The advantage of jumping is speed. You’ll get up a lot quicker and be less vulnerable. Sure, you can still fire while you’re climbing, but it’s safer to jump up it. I love when games give the player options.
Luckily, these rockmen are a different shade from the other rocks, so you can easily distinguish when danger is imminent. BTW, maybe it’s just me but they remind me of the villains from Matango (AKA Attack of the Mushroom People).
Don’t underestimate these bastards. Thankfully, you can shoot down the rocks.
Ol’ T-Rex here may not seem so imposing NOW but that wasn’t the case over 30 years ago, at least not for me it was. I marveled at his size and his simple but effective design was truly memorable for its time.
Alright, I lied. Set up the ladder and hop on that little edge there. A red dot (Karnov’s power-up icon, if you need it) pops up conveniently, and the bombs will appear when you make your way across. It’s cool how they use the ladder to trigger secrets in this game. I remember how my brother and I gave each other a big hi-five like two geeks when we first discovered this secret over 30 years ago.
I thought the T-Rex boss in the last level was nasty… turns out I hadn’t seen SQUAT yet!
It lunges and moves in a way you wish it wouldn’t! This is what a terrifying and unsettling boss looks like.
Thank God Karnov can’t lose those fancy trousers. We don’t need to see no Sir Arthur here, no siree. Instead he goes gray when he’s down to his last hit.
Back in 1993, during the golden days of the fighting game genre, Data East threw their name in the name they released Fighter’s History. The final boss of that game saw the return of Karnov. Fighter’s History is most well known for its lawsuit with Capcom. Capcom felt that Data East ripped off the “feel and spirit” of the almighty Street Fighter II. Capcom lost the case in court. Fighter’s History to this day remains a guilty pleasure of mine.
Back in the late ’80s to early ’90s, my brother and I only received at most 2-3 NES games a year. So the ones we did get we had to make sure would be worth it. Usually we relied on friends or on renting to determine if a game was worth owning. In the case of Karnov neither my brother or I had previously played it, or even heard of it. However, the art on the front and back had us sold. Going by such and only such usually spells disaster but thankfully Karnov didn’t disappoint. This game has sort of a Gothic atmosphere that is unlike many other NES games. Its various locales, strange enemies and bosses, not to mention its very distinctly middle Eastern musical styling, evokes a mythical almost goth-like air of mystery that permeates throughout the game’s nine levels. There are also multiple paths and plenty of secrets to encourage repeated play. Icons add further depth and strategy. Plus I always found myself pulled to the portly protagonist. There’s something about the bald Russian that is oddly appealing. It’s not a great game, but I find it to be rather solid and a notable effort in the vast 8-bit Nintendo library.
Soul Blazer fans unite! Quintet’s spiritual follow-up, Illusion of Gaia, follows the adventures of a young explorer named Will along with his zany friends. Armed with his trusty flute, psychic powers and the ability to morph into strange powerful beings, Illusion of Gaia is a quirky and memorable action RPG. On a personal note, it’s been over 10 years since I first played and beat this game, and I have been meaning to review it for a decade now. At last, the time has come. I had a blast playing through Illusion of Gaia — it’s yet another high quality game in a lineup full of epic titles. It’s hard, for me at least, not to love the SNES. It’s truly the system that keeps on giving. You know a system is stacked to the gills when a game of this caliber has kind of been forgotten somewhat. Maybe it doesn’t belong in the same breath as some of the Super Nintendo’s very finest, but it sure holds its own.
I THINK I’M TURNING JAPANESE
Released in Japan as Gaia Gensōki on November 27, 1993, North American gamers had to wait 10 months to play Illusion of Gaia. European gamers had it even worse — it didn’t come out there until April 1995. The Super Famicom box art is perhaps my all-time favorite video game cover. Seeing Will, Kara and the adorable little pig Hamlet racing across the universe as two mysterious powerful beings loom overhead promises adventure and intrigue. Compare this box art to the one we got here in America and it’s night and day. It went from super dope to super meh. On the bright side, we’re not here for no stinkin’ cover. We’re here for the game. And fortunately, it’s a dandy one.
STRANGER THINGS CONNECTION
Sometimes I can turn a stubborn eye to something that becomes an overnight success. As a fan of underdogs and obscurities, it may take me a while to latch on to something that sweeps a nation by storm. It happened with Goosebumps back in the early-mid ’90s. Ironically, nearly 25 years later it happened with Stranger Things (which is kind of like Goosebumps on steroids). Earlier this month I finally watched Seasons 1 and 2. Stranger Things easily became my most favorite TV show since Breaking Bad. As I went to capture screenshots for this review, it suddenly dawned on me that Illusion of Gaia can sort of be viewed as a 16-bit version of Stranger Things! Now hear me out. There is a “Dark Space” in Illusion of Gaia. Meanwhile, there is an “Upside Down” in Stranger Things. Both main protagonists (more or less) are named Will; HELL, they even look kind of similar! Will possesses the power of telekinesis, so he’s like a combination of Will Byers AND Eleven. It’s kind of neat when one thinks about it. Well, at least it is to me, anyhow
THE STORY GOES…
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
Will’s father is missing. Possibly dead. Still, Will refuses to stop searching until he finds some answers. Not unlike Joyce Byers and Will…
Remember how season 2 of Stranger Things mentioned that the one year anniversary of a traumatic event can trigger intense feelings, flashbacks and even relapses? The Anniversary Effect is very real, indeed. Having experienced it myself, it’s little stuff like this that really connects me to Illusion of Gaia.
Every group of friends needs that one trusty hang out spot. For these boys, it’s the Seaside Cave at the far end of their hometown, South Cape.
Before Will heads over to Seaside Cave, however, he entertains the locals for a bit. That funky looking portal there transports you to the Dark Space, but more on that later.
Jumping off high ledges is always a hoot. I found the game’s translation to be rather endearing.
Marriage takes hard work and good communication to work. Seth’s parents are having a bit of a rough patch. Characters bicker and have their flaws, just like in real life. It made the game feel more “alive” than some other 16-bit action RPGs.
WAIT A MINUTE — a runaway girl?! You mean like… Eleven?
Dungeons & Dragons was on the table until the group had something even more compelling in mind…
Telekinesis aside, Will has a sixth sense psychic power.
Coming home to find a pig wrecking your living room just doesn’t happen everyday. But this is no ordinary day. Princess Kara tracks down her pet pig Hamlet at Will’s house. They go upstairs where Kara asks Will about his missing father, Olman.
Grandma Lola and Grandpa Bill join the scene as does King Edward’s soldiers. They drag off Kara but not before she can share a heartfelt thought to Will. Ever meet someone that you felt you’ve known your whole life? That’s the way Kara feels about Will. But how does Will feel about Kara? That remains to be seen…
Damn, son. Good thing that text box is blocking your trousers…
Every great adventure sees our hero leaving home to explore uncharted territory. And so too it is with Will. He’s been summoned to King Edward’s castle. Will loves his grandparents but he has a mission and a destiny to carry out…
Princess Kara begs you to rescue her but King Edward throws you into a prison cell before you can lift a finger. Night soon falls…
Enter the Dark Space where Gaia, the source of all life, offers sage advice, rest and a chance at saving your journey.
Battle bloodthirsty bats, sinister skeletons and other strange abominations.
Flutes aren’t typically thought of as weapons, but Will makes the most of it.
There’s a slight puzzle element to the game but nothing too perplexing. Jumping on that button there reveals a hidden room that’s home to some unsavory bats.
Finding treasures and the Dark Space portal is crucial to success.
Transform into Freedan for the very first time.
Stronger than Will, Freedan turns you into a badass warrior.
Players are introduced to Lilly near the end of this dungeon. She too possesses some unique powers.
Racing back to the castle under the cloak of nightfall, Will and Kara head back to Will’s home in South Cape.
However, the return is spoiled by a vicious act of vandalism. We learn that the Jackal has left his mark on Will’s bedroom wall. The Jackal is a top-of-the-line hunter hired by Kara’s mom. He now has his sights aimed directly at Will.
Enter Lilly, who informs Will that Grandpa Bill and Grandma Lola are safely tucked away in her village. Kara gets a little protective of Will and questions who this Lilly is. The two then have a bit of a verbal splat. Their dynamic is certainly entertaining to say the very least.
Before heading out to Itory Village, Will bids farewell to his friends. They notice that something is off with Will. You know, just like Will’s friends did in Stranger Things. Not acting like the same old Will indeed…
Lilly’s bickering with Kara carries on.
Shades of Eleven and Mad Max, almost…
Traveling from South Cape to Itory our heroes go.
Princess Kara complains and Lilly is quick to be curt with her. We soon find Grandpa Bill and Grandma Lola safe and sound. They tell you that the Jackal has been here…
Despite fair warnings, their words go unheeded.
Sprint down and catch some major air!
Climb down the ladder and secure your first Inca Statue.
Friday the 13th flashback, anyone? KU KU KU… HA HA HA. Lilly tells you about the Moon Tribe. It is there that you’ll procure your second Inca Statue.
Hardship has a way of either destroying you or strengthening you. It’s up to you to decide which side of the coin wins out.
Princess Kara and Lilly continue to bicker
Welcome to Larai Cliff. Many have tried exploring and exploiting it. None have survived to tell the tale.
Massive Inca stone statues litter the place. They really add to the adventure and exploration atmosphere of the game.
Battle parasitic mutant worms and look for clues scattered among the explorers who have gone before you…
Speaking of Friday the 13th, these bastards kind of look like Jason Voorhees (his Jason Goes To Hell incarnation in particular). Explosions reveal a skull?! Strange but true…
Arrange the “Jason” statues properly and a hidden door reveals itself. The Dark Space is always a welcome sight as it allows you to save your game and also transform into the almighty Freedan.
Freedan’s reach allows him to access places Will cannot.
Another giant leap of faith!
Mudpit creatures try to smother you in a mud bath. Many traps lie in waiting to befall explorers, but luckily Freedan is no ordinary man.
Freedan is bigger and stronger than Will — transforming keeps the game feel fresh and exciting. Now that both Inca Statues have been placed, it’s time for the big boss fight.
Castoth is a mean nasty demon.
There’s nowhere to hide or run. Good luck!
Like so many (action) RPGs of the era, Illusion of Gaia came packaged with some neat bonuses. This includes a world map, an extended manual that served as a player’s hint guide and an enemy map. It was this attention to detail that made games of the genre so cool back in the day.
CHINK IN THE ARMOR
Far from a perfect game, there are a few imperfections to take note of. For starters, fans of Soul Blazer will surely miss the ability to lock and strafe. Also, those expecting an open world kind of action adventure in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past may be slightly disappointed. Moving on the overhead world map is automatic and you go from destination to destination. This does cut down on the fluff and travel time, but it also makes Illusion of Gaia a rather linear game.
Finally, don’t expect a very long game. It lasts about 15 hours which is plenty long enough but it does seem to fly by pretty fast. I suppose one could argue it’s better to leave the audience wanting more as opposed to player fatigue. And this one definitely left me wanting more. So this can be viewed both ways.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Interestingly enough, despite both EGM and GameFan previewing the game and hyping it up, neither publication ever reviewed it. It stands as probably the highest profile SNES game (especially of 1994) to never be reviewed by either EGM or GameFan. Pretty shocking to say the least. Illusion of Gaia is well received in retro gaming circles. Some prefer it over Soul Blazer, as do I. It’s not quite as awesome as Quintet’s spiritual follow-up, Terranigma, but few games are. Super Play rated it 88%.
I hold Illusion of Gaia in fond reverence. While it isn’t the greatest SNES game ever, there’s something mystifying about it that left a lasting impression. There’s sort of a beautiful melancholy to it all. You really feel like you’re on some grand adventure saving the world and growing with your friends as you go. The game also hits on some surprisingly mature themes, such as the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good. In fact, it even reminds me a bit of EarthBound in that sense (although Illusion of Gaia came out almost a year earlier in Japan). And whenever a game can remind me of Earthbound, that’s a damn good thing!
One reason I prefer Illusion of Gaia over Soul Blazer is the main protagonist, Will. Contrast this to Soul Blazer, where you control a generic and nameless warrior. It leaves you feeling a bit disconnected. But with Illusion of Gaia, you’re controlling a normal boy (not counting the psychic powers mind you) with normal friends in a normal town. You almost feel like you could have grown up in a similar town with similar friends. The ability to switch between Will and two fierce warriors is well implemented and adds variety to the game, mixing the humanity with the extraordinary. It’s a combination that works like gangbusters. But ultimately, it was Will and his story arc that I gravitated toward. That raft scene between Will and Kara haunts me to this day –I dare call it one of the best and most memorable moments in 16-bit history. It doesn’t hurt too that the graphics were great for its time. Little details like Will’s hair blowing in the wind and even the sparkly stars adorning the portal to the Dark Space hits the sweet spot. Illusion of Gaia has that classic lush “SNES look” that typified many Super Nintendo games from that era. And the music is some of the finest work ever composed on the SNES! Major props to Yasuhiro Kawasaki.
Another reason why I prefer Illusion of Gaia to Soul Blazer is that it’s way more character driven. The characters are teeming with life — each one has a quirky personality and the group dynamic is fascinating to say the very least. Not everyone gets along and some even bicker. Others fall in love. It sort of paints a picture of real life in some ways, and even though games are meant to be a fun form of escape, it’s always nice in my book when a game incorporates some real life stuff. I sort of feel that Illusion of Gaia has become one of those “lost classics.” It doesn’t seem to come up too often when people discuss the best Super Nintendo games of all time, but it’s one of those games where if someone asks, “Ooh, remember Illusion of Gaia?” Then suddenly it blows up into a huge nostalgia fest. I suppose that’s a testament to how epic the SNES library truly is. And the fact that one can make reasonable connections with this game to Stranger Things in the year 2017 just makes me love this quirky little game that much more.
Graphics: 9 Sound: 9 Gameplay: 9 Longevity: 8
Overall: 9.0 Gold Award
But I would walk 500 miles. And I would walk 500 more!
Double Dragon. Man, the series brings back a lot of fond memories for me. It originated in the arcades in 1987 and received a Nintendo port in June 1988. The NES game was where many of us were first exposed to the exploits of the Shadow Warriors and the Lee Brothers. It’s hard to believe the NES version is almost 30 years old. Let’s kick off Double Dragon week here on RVGFanatic with the classic (well, mostly, anyhow) NES trilogy.
Who could forget this intro?
Remember the little music here?
Make them pay for their sins.
Remember climbing the ladders?
Or stealing Linda’s whip?
Love the city in the backdrop.
Abobo is an all-time iconic NES villain.
They weren’t levels.
They weren’t stages.
They were missions!
Ever been hit by a cardboard box?
They’re more vicious than they look!
You really felt like you were on a mission.
Scaling this tower was some epic shit.
Seriously made you feel like Bruce Lee.
Speaking of Bruce Lee…
Don’t think these are friendly woods.
Take his knife and throw it back at him!
This was so atmospheric
Batting practice, anyone?
Abobo twins busting out was so epic.
This part always did me in.
As did this, if I made it this far.
Watch those sticks of dynamite…
The Incredible Abobo.
That moon is straight up Konami!
How ominous looking…
OH BLOODY HELL!
Come here often?
I’ve got better things to do tonight than die!
Ah, the 2-player mode we didn’t want.
A novelty act that didn’t last long.
Well, at least you could use Abobo.
How about 2 players in the real mode?
Double Dragon II: The Revenge was everything we wanted in a Double Dragon game and more. Now you could play co-op with a buddy and take out the bad guys together. I have so many fond memories of playing this game with my uncle and brother switching off back in January 1990 when it first came out to North American shores. We played the crap out of this game and it was one of our absolute favorites.
I remember thinking this was a bit spooky.
Let’s just say Marian is in trouble…
Look, it’s Williams with a new makeover.
Yup, must have been the ’90s.
I used to call these guys “Leaf Men”
Never gets old stealing their weapons.
Remember throwing them off the ledge?
Reminded me of WWF’s Demolition!
Here comes the Ax. Here comes the Smasher. The Demolition — walking disaster. Pain and destruction is our middle name!
“GET TO DA CHOPPA!”
Such an awesome moment.
Not the best position to be in…
This was even worse.
I called these guys “Ninja Scarecrows”
I loved these little cutscenes.
“Neon-filled night” — beautiful phrase.
I called these guys “Paintbrush Men”
Watch out for the opening chopper door!
Hell of a mustache on this guy.
“This is the way to certain death.”
Another great action movie line.
Gotta have a forest stage.
Wouldn’t be Double Dragon without one.
This part claimed so many lives…
What lies up ahead?
Only one way to find out…
So fun setting these guys on fire.
It’s Chin from the first Double Dragon!
Oh man, that early ’90s fashion though.
We meet again, Arnold. “I’LL BE BACK!” Yeah, we’ll see about that.
“There is evil in the air.”
It’s cheesy but that’s the charm.
Disappearing platforms, yay…
“Paint THIS, bitch!”
Concentrate, young Jedi.
Send my regards to Mr. Fuji!
*devious Mr. Fuji crackle*
Just a cog in the machine…
Back again? You weren’t lying, Arnold.
“Damnit, we just wiped this floor clean!”
Your greatest enemy is yourself…
This guy kicked my ass hard.
Remember using the Game Genie on him?
Yeah, you weren’t alone. Game Genie FTW.
Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones came out in the US February 1991. To put it simply, my brother and I felt it was a grand disappointment. It didn’t really feel like a Double Dragon game. Certainly there was a lot of potential there but we felt it was never realized. It was hard as hell, too. I don’t mind a difficult game, but when it feels damn near impossible to get past the second level or so, something is not right. I know some people might enjoy this game and that’s fine if you do. I just never did. Nevertheless, let’s take a quick look.
Ah, the infamous Bimmy blunder.
This was a sign of things to come.
Creepy intro, though.
Points for that.
I dunno, old lady, you look a bit shady…
Ah what the hell. Let’s go.
He nails the homeless man impersonation.
I never liked the aesthetic.
Double Dragon II looked way better.
This is the boss? How disappointing.
At least they still have a forest stage.
Nice to see the Great Wall of China, too.
Chin, you’ve really let yourself go…
It’s a little depressing
Wait, you can use Chin?!
That’s not jumping the shark at all…
Beat Ranzou and he becomes an ally.
Props for branching out, I guess.
But some things don’t need branching out.
He’s certainly no Abobo.
Best looking part of the game.
So let’s end it on a high note
Double Dragon is a classic franchise that I feel has been overlooked and somewhat forgotten over the years. For me growing up with the NES in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the brand of Double Dragon in my mind was right up there with the likes of Mario, Punch-Out!!, Mega Man, Metroid, Castlevania and Contra. It saddens me that it kind of faded away from the spotlight but hey, we’ll always have the memories. On a side note, we did receive Double Dragon IV for PS4 and Steam on January 30, 2017. So the Lee Brothers aren’t officially dead yet.
The NES trilogy was a mixed bag. The first one was great for its time. The visuals and sound were both excellent. I also kind of liked that you learn more moves as you gain experience. It makes sense being the first game that the Lee Brothers would slowly learn more moves as they go along. The only thing missing a 2-player co-op mode in the regular game mode. The second one is the best. Now you get 2-player co-op and the Lee Brothers know every trick in the book from the very beginning, so there’s no limitations or holding back from jump street. It’s an action-packed game that’s great fun with two. My only complaint? A little bit too much platforming for my liking. I don’t mind a bit of platforming in my beat ‘em ups as long as the control is on point. I can’t say that about Double Dragon II — I’ve lost many a life trying to complete all the damn jumps in that game. As for the third game in the series, I never liked it. It felt outdated and didn’t even feel like Double Dragon, names aside. Guess you can’t win ‘em all. See ya next time for the Lee Brothers’ SNES debut!
Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theatres tomorrow on July 7, 2017. The masked superhero has a famous saying: “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” It’s a perfect time to share a Nintendo story from my youth. It’s a story that’s going to be featured in Jeffrey Wittenhagen’s upcoming Nintendo book. Thank you Jeff for allowing me the honor to be a small part of another one of your great books. To all my readers here on RVGFanatic, here’s my story in full below!
YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD NINTENDO MAN
I’m instantly bombarded by a tidal wave of memories whenever I think about the 8-bit Nintendo. Like so many others, I grew up on the NES in the late ‘80s. Born in 1983, I was just old enough to appreciate the NES when it started hitting its stride in North America circa 1987. I have fond memories of all those lazy carefree Sunday mornings spent playing the likes of Contra, Mega Man 2 and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! just to name a few. Nintendo help made my childhood fun and memorable. Back then gaming was a brand new experience to me. There were no fancy 3D graphics, no complex controller layouts and no lengthy 10 minute tutorials to sit through. The NES gave you two buttons; all you had to do was press start and you were good to go. Sometimes simplicity can’t be beat. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles — the NES is proof that a game doesn’t have to be overly fancy or complicated in order to be great.
My uncle bought a Nintendo for me and my brother in 1987. I still remember the humble collection we managed to amass through the years…
My childhood is filled with fond memories of myself, Uncle Jimmy and my brother Kevin switching off for hours on end as we sat glued to our television set playing the latest NES titles. Hell, the NES was the ORIGINAL Nintendo “Switch.” After all, those halcyon days were all about switching off with my brother and uncle on Contra as we attempted to save the universe on a nightly basis back in the summer of 1989. Hanging out with my uncle and brother blasting alien scum to Kingdom Come was some of the greatest times of my childhood.
Another fond memory I carry with me were all the rental stores that populated my area. There had to be a good 10 video stores all within a 30 mile radius back in the late ‘80s where I lived. From the established titans of the industry (Blockbuster) to all the little quirky mom and pop shops, it was an entertainment mecca with more goodies than you could watch or play to cover the span of ten lifetimes.
My favorite store of the lot hands down was Evergreen Video. I blame Evergreen Video and its owner, Tom, just a common man working hard for the American dream, as the source that corrupted me. One day in the late ’80s my dad was driving me and my brother around. We spotted Evergreen Video by chance when we made a pit stop in a small plaza to pick up a few items. I had never seen Evergreen Video before but on that day there it stood. Its big bold green letters silently called out to me and my brother, beckoning us over. We found ourselves breaking into a brisk stroll as we made a beeline for the store, our legs suddenly on a mission of their own.
I can still hear the little chime that rung each time someone entered the store. It was a quaint shop with lots of family videos. You were immediately greeted upon entry by four tall wooden shelves that began near the entrance and ended close to the register counter, which sat roughly 60-70 feet straight ahead. Two columns of towering tan shelves rested on each side of the store, freeing the middle aisle for a clear walk to the counter and a good look at the man who owned the store, Tom. Rocking brown rimmed spectacles and a beard like it was 2014, Tom became something of an uncle figure to me and Kevin. You would often find Tom invariably sporting a flannel shirt of one kind or another. In fact, he was the spitting image of Al Borland (played by Richard Karn) from the ‘90s TV sitcom, Home Improvement, only with glasses.
Up front and to the right sat a small wooden shelf. There Tom kept his collection of 30-40 NES games. Tucked away in a corner, it was this little heavenly nook that my brother and I always made a mad scramble for every Saturday afternoon. The smell of the oak wood shelves permeates to this day. If there was ever a quintessential mom and pop rental store, Evergreen Video surely was it.
Tom worked there every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. And no matter what, we could always count on seeing his big smile greeting us behind the register counter whenever he saw us trampling in. I still remember some of the games I rented from Evergreen Video…
… just to name some. Back then there was no YouTube or anything to really scope these games out. You basically rented them on a whim based on the cover art and how cool the back of the box looked. It made for hit and miss rentals and some crazy times. You just never knew what you were going to get. In some regard it was almost like the Wild Wild West back then!
There was a certain purity to those days that I miss. The same can be said for the purity that courses through the 8-bit veins of the NES itself. Timing is everything in life — the Nintendo and the late ’80s simply went hand in hand and everything else that came along with it, including mom and pop shops.
Tom was so good to us; he even held games for me and Kevin. My brother would call and ask for a game and if Tom had said game then he would hold it for us. I remember him telling us once, with a big smile, “Only for you guys.” Maybe he said that to every kid customer of his, but damnit I like to think he meant what he said. And I don’t doubt that he did because that’s just the kind of guy Tom was.
There’s one story in particular that I’ll never forget. One time we came in to pick up TMNT II: The Arcade Game. We met Tom’s son that day. He was playing the game on the small TV that sat behind the register counter. I felt so bad when he was forced to turn the game off just so we could rent it. He was on the snowfield level battling the wolf boss, Tora. I remember Tora flashing and blinking red as Tom told his very own flesh and blood, “Sorry but these boys need to rent the game now.” I’ll never forget the poor kid looking absolutely crushed, wanting to carry on like any TMNT loving kid would, but he respected his dad far too much to disobey. I always felt guilty about that! Tom had this incredible knack of making me and Kevin feel like we were part of his family. It was top-notch service the likes of which you can’t buy. The kind of genuine service you can only find at a mom and pop shop.
Being huge fans of Double Dragon II, Kevin and I couldn’t wait for Double Dragon III. When it finally arrived in early 1991, my dad took us to Evergreen Video to rent a copy. The drive home was filled with visions of spinning roundhouse kicks and crazy throws galore, but alas, when we popped the game in it refused to play for some reason. My dad promptly called Evergreen Video to inform Tom about the situation and Tom told us to come back for a no-frills exchange. We ended up picking Battletoads as a replacement rental. While we were disappointed that we couldn’t play the eagerly anticipated Double Dragon III, we made the most out of that weekend. More importantly, Tom’s great customer service and integrity once again shined like a thousand stars shimmering in the night sky.
But here’s the part that blows my mind. A few weeks later we made our usual Saturday afternoon trek to Evergreen Video. Tom surprised us when he revealed a brand new copy of Double Dragon III — reserved just for us! He said he was waiting on us to come by because he knew how disappointed we were that his previous copy didn’t work. He wanted to make things right, but he already did that with the Battletoads exchange. It exemplifies the kind of upstanding man Tom was. He always went above and beyond the call of duty. If Yelp existed back in 1991, Evergreen Video would have gotten 5 stars all day! As for Double Dragon III, let’s just say some sequels disappoint.
Early 1992 was an interesting time. There was a changing of the guard. You could feel the shift in the winds, and you could see the writing on the wall. The 8-bit NES was being phased out for the brand new 16-bit Super Nintendo. And with it, Evergreen Video. Business wasn’t booming for Tom in early 1992 as it was in the late ’80s. When the Super Nintendo came to the US in late 1991, Tom bought some SNES games to keep up with the times. I rented Ultraman and sadly that was the last game I would ever rent from Evergreen Video. The beginning of one era (the SNES) marked the ending for another (Evergreen Video).
One innocuous Saturday afternoon in early 1992 my dad took me and Kevin to Evergreen Video to return Ultraman. Unfortunately, that trip proved to be our last. Tom told us he and the family were moving on. But because I was so young I didn’t really grasp his heartfelt admission. I just assumed he would still be there next Saturday and the Saturday after that. Because it’s Tom. And that’s what Tom does. After all, he’s your friendly neighborhood Nintendo man.
But reality crushed me when my mom took me shopping in that same plaza a week later. I stole a glance inside the remains of Evergreen Video. What was once a simple but lovely store that provided me with so many good memories was now a broken, fragmented shell of its former glory. A part of me expected to still see the wooden shelves and Tom’s friendly mug situated behind the register counter. Instead, what I found that day was an empty store torn down in shambles, the floor littered with debris. I felt like crying as I peered in through the glass pane. I lost a little bit of innocence that day. From that moment on I forever realized that things don’t last forever, no matter how much you want them to.
The last time I visited that plaza was June 2008. I had just graduated from college with a teaching credential. My cousins wanted to celebrate the occasion by eating at a Chinese restaurant. Of all the places they could have chosen, of course it had to be at a restaurant in that small plaza near the defunct remains of Evergreen Video. But of course. It was a surreal night. I just graduated from college and was looking forward to the future. But returning to that childhood plaza for the first time in what had to be over a decade got me far more emotional than I thought possible. After dinner my cousins declared a movie night at their place. But having unfinished business, I told them I would drop by later. As they drove off I stood outside the restaurant all by my lonesome. I slowly turned my gaze to the classic spot where Evergreen Video once proudly stood ages ago. My heart started racing as I knew what stood before me: I was on the verge of facing a huge part of my childhood for quite possibly the last time ever. I knew what I had to do…
The building was vacant. I peered inside as memories came flooding back. I saw a montage in my own mind playing. Rushing in, pushing the door open, hearing the chime of the bell and being greeted by Tom’s friendly smile. Making a beeline for the NES games, admiring the art on the boxes and hoping you would pick a good game to play for that weekend. All those images flashed in my mind one after the other. And then I was snapped back to reality. I said a quick silent thank you to Tom. Turning my back to the store, I stood there for a minute to take in the cool early evening air.
I reminisced about the past while also eagerly anticipating the future. I had just graduated and was on my way to achieving my childhood dream of having my own classroom, my own students to teach and to be a positive male influence in their lives. Not unlike how Tom was to me all those years ago in his own unique way. Alas, as the final shards of sunlight pierced the storefront, I decided that was enough reflection for one night. Placing my childhood memories back in the box, I texted my cousins that I was heading over and made my way to my car. I stole one last glance at the place where Evergreen Video once stood tall and proud. I gave Evergreen Video one final knowing nod as the engine roared. The night was still young… and so was I.
That fateful June evening of 2008 was the last time I visited that small plaza where Evergreen Video once stood. It’s crazy that it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been back to that area. I’ve since gone on to fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher. I like to think Tom, wherever he is, would be proud of me. To this day I have no idea where he is or even what he’s up to. I never knew his last name. It’s been over 25 years since I last saw the man. It’s sad to think there’s even a chance he may no longer be alive. But wherever he is, in whatever state or space, I hope he’s doing well and at peace.
Tom was a uncle figure to me and Kevin growing up, and Evergreen Video became much more than a mom and pop video store. It was a connection and bond held between strangers turned family. A bond that formed much like the bond that video games can help forge between people from different walks of life. And the NES certainly did that. Whenever I think back to my childhood, I invariably think about the NES, Tom and Evergreen Video. It was a different era. A simpler time. I’m grateful that I got to experience gaming’s golden age growing up. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Long live Nintendo, and long live the memories of Tom and Evergreen Video.
It’s hard to fathom that come this October, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! will turn the big 3-0. Wow, where does the time go? Growing up, my brother and friends adored Mario. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the Italian plumber myself, but when it came to the NES it was always about three games that truly cemented me as a gamer for life. Contra, Mega Man 2 and of course, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! I recently reviewed the sequel, Super Punch-Out!!, so it’s only fitting to return to the original and remember why it’s arguably the greatest boxing video game of all time.
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE
We came for Mike Tyson. We stayed for Little Mac.
Co-starring Carl Otis Winslow!
Ah, Glass Joe. Nintendo’s greatest jobber.
Joe’s facial expressions are priceless.
Love seeing that spit flying out!
Mario moonlighting as a ref was so cool.
Von Kaiser is a big step up from Joe.
Earn stars for Mac’s Super Uppercut.
23-13? About to go 23-14.
Dodging like a smooth criminal.
Control is crazy on point.
Knock off his mustache!
Piston Honda was serious business.
So intimidating the first time you see him!
Snapping his massive head back felt so sweet.
Piston’s infamous flurry of jabs.
He polishes it off with a gigantic uppercut.
Love the way he back peddles before falling.
Looks like Paul Bunyan with those huge feet!
Ah, the classic training sequence.
Don Flamenco has a face you just want to punch.
He gave off such a douche and creep vibe!
Give him that electrocution hair.
One of my childhood friends looked like King Hippo.
King Hippo’s defense is top-notch.
Until it isn’t. Classic moment!
One knock-out and he’s done for.
Great Tiger used to give me fits.
Love how his eyes bug out when you drill him.
His teleportation trick was a bit trippy.
Look for his turban to flash…
One of the all-time great NES villains!
Such an imposing sight the very first time!
Did this feel good or what?
He’s got buggy eye syndrome, too.
The Bull Charge is such an iconic move.
As was the counter for it!
Note: You’ll have rematches with Piston Honda and Don Flamenco in this circuit. However, I’ll skip showing them again even though they are slightly tweaked to be more difficult second time around.
Soda Popinksi. What an all-time great name!
He scared me as a kid…
He always whupped my ass.
“Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.” He’ll be glad to.
Enjoy this while you can.
He’s a tough bastard!
He’s no Randy Savage, though.
They just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Watch out for his Macho Spin Punch.
A NES rite of passage.
Making it this far was impressive alone.
Hey, he’s not so bad…
Yeah, right. Gotta be super fast!
Arguably the most intense NES final boss battle.
You were a legend if you could beat Tyson legit.
My brother’s friend was able to make it to Tyson on a few occasions. Just getting to Iron Mike was an accomplishment in and of itself. Being able to land a few blows was enough to earn you a couple high fives. Tyson is very fast and very hard to hit, let alone knock out. If anyone ever did, they became a gawd damn legend. No one in my group could ever do it, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Tyson terrorized many Nintendo kids growing up in the ’80s. He’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
Show him who’s boss, Mac!
TELL ‘IM, DOC LOUIS!
In-between rounds Doc Louis will give you tips.
Gotta love the added damage to the avatars!
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is one of my favorite NES games of all time. I love the 8-bit Nintendo but if I were to be perfectly honest a large portion of its library has not aged well. To be frank, some have aged downright terribly. However, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! stands the test of time even nearly 30 years later. From the huge sprites to the different strategies one must adopt from fighter to fighter, there’s no denying this is one of the all-time classics. A truly great game never goes out of style. No matter how much time passes by, it remains as playable and fun as ever. Few games can claim that. This game can. It’s always hard to admit when a childhood favorite fails to live up to standards. In this case, there are thankfully no nostalgia goggles. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still a TKO even three decades after its initial release. That says it all, really.
Ah, Rampage. Hard to believe the 1986 arcade game turned 30 last year. Next year will mark 30 years for the 8-bit NES port. Who didn’t play this game back in the day? I remember seeing the lovely cover at my local mom ‘n pop rental shop EVERGREEN VIDEO and absolutely going nuts. I loved monsters and the cover promised monster mayhem and destruction. My old man handed a Washington over to Tom, Evergreen Video’s owner, as my dad did every Saturday afternoon when my brother and I would go to rent the latest NES title. Remember when games were that cheap to rent? Hell, remember when renting games was a thing?! But I digress. That whole car ride home, all five minutes of it, was the longest five minutes of my life. I couldn’t wait to play Rampage. We rushed to our game room, popped it in and the rest is history. The fact that I remember it fondly to this day nearly 30 years later says it all.
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA
Man, I remember gawking at this VHS cover at Toys R Us in the late ’80s. Toys R Us used to have a super small VHS section that contained Disney movies and the odd Godzilla film. Long before Capcom made crossovers popular in the late ’90s, there was 1962’s KING KONG vs. GODZILLA! I had no clue such a film existed so I nearly crapped my pants when I first saw the box sitting pretty on the shelf. Suddenly I no longer cared about buying that latest ThunderCats toy or the newest Nintendo game. Rather, all I wanted was to walk away with just a movie… from Toys R Us! We’re talkin’ TOYS R US here! You know it had to take a pretty damn special movie to possess any kid to want to do that. King Kong vs. Godzilla was that special. My parents bought it on sight and I remember being a bit disappointed when I finally saw the movie. Still, I liked it enough and had no regrets of not buying Leonardo: Scuba Diving Edition!
Speaking of King Kong, I just watched Kong: Skull Island the other night. It was pretty good, and I am excited for this new “MonsterVerse” that Legendary has created. Crossover franchises are all the rage now, and I can’t wait for King Kong vs. Godzilla to hit theatres on May 29, 2020. That’s sure to be epic.
After discovering the internet in the late ’90s, I purchased a subtitled version of King Kong vs. Godzilla. I enjoyed it a lot more than the English dub. So, how does this all relate to Rampage? Well of course…
Yeeeeee-ahhh A used… pink bathrobe
A rare… mint snowglobe
A Smurf… TV tray
I bought on eBay!
My house… is filled with this crap
Shows up in BUBBLE WRAP
Most every day
What I bought on eBay!
Tell me why I need another pet rock
Tell me why I got that ALF alarm clock
Tell me why I bid on Shatner’s old toupee
They had it on eBay!
I’ll buy… your knick-knack
Just check… my feedback “A++!” they all say
They love me on eBay!
Gonna buy a slightly damaged golf bag
Gonna buy some Beanie Babies, new with tag
From some guy I’ve never met in NOOOORWAAAY
Found him on eBay!
I am the type who is liable to snipe you
With two seconds left to go, whoaaaa Got Paypal or Visa, whatever’ll please ya
As long as I’ve got… THE DOOOUGH!
I’ll buy… your tchotchkes
Sell me… your watch, please
I’ll buy… I’ll buy, I’ll buy, I’ll buy… I’M HIGHEST BIDDER!!
JUNK KEEPS ARRIVING IN THE MAIL
FROM THAT WORLDWIDE GARAGE SALE (Dukes Of Hazard ashtray) Hey! A Dukes Of Hazard ashtray OHHHH YEAH… I bought it on eBay!
Wanna buy a Pac-Man Fever lunchbox
Wanna buy a case of vintage tube socks
Wanna buy a Kleenex used by Dr. Dre, used by Dr. Dre!
Found it oneBay!
Wanna buy that Farrah Fawcet poster Pez dispensers and a toaster DON’T KNOW WHY… the kind of stuff you’d throw away
I’ll buy oneBay!
What I bought on eBay-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y!
Indeed. The best part of the game is scaling a building that allows you to clobber that one, the one behind it and the one next to it as well. That, along with playing with your brother or friend, was as good as it got in Rampage.
November 6, 1993 marks one of the strangest incidents ever witnessed in sports history. It was a rematch between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. During round seven, a fan parachuted down just missing the ring. The bizarre incident caused a 21 minute delay.
Holyfield eventually won the bout after the fight went 12 rounds. He regained his World Heavyweight title. It was the only loss Riddick Bowe would ever suffer in his boxing career.
Every five or so stages, you conquer another region. No password or save system made beating this game a daunting and tedious chore.
RAMPAGE THROUGH THE YEARS
I was a bit saddened when we never got a Super Rampage on the SNES. I thought that spelled the end but Rampage saw a revival during the 32-bit generation in the form of Rampage World Tour. I bought a copy back in 2003 and it’s OK for what it is, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a three player mode. There was no excuse for that especially since the Saturn could more than handle it. Therefore the port always came off as incredibly lazy to me.
Rampage: Total Destruction came out on the Wii in 2006. Who knows if Rampage will ever be resurrected again (in video game form).
Coming to theatres in April 2018 — Rampage starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is no stranger to video game movie adaptations. This will be his second video game film, with his first being 2005’s Doom. That was not a good movie. Hopefully Rampage turns out OK, and I think it will. We’ll find out in about a year!
Even nearly 30 years ago, I knew Rampage wasn’t a great game or anything. It’s best played with a like minded bud for no more than 15 minutes. Is there a more mindless one trick pony game than Rampage? It is what it is. It can be fun to pop in for a few minutes once in a blue moon but it’s not something you’ll want to play often. I’ll always remember Rampage for its cool box art and allowing kids to live out our fantasy of being a towering monster crushing buildings left and right — even if it fell way short of what we imagined. I guess there’s only so much you can do with this sort of format. Rampage is one of those games that gives you the nostalgic feels but the memories far surpass the actual experience, if that makes sense. It’s certainly a memorable relic from the good old NES days of late ’80s yore.
Man, Super Mario Kart. Where do I begin? The Super Nintendo is loaded with awesome games; my memories with this system run long and deep. Super Mario Kart not only ranks as one of the very best, but it also gave me and my gaming buds countless epic memories. It was a brilliant idea — take Mario, his chums and throw them in a crazy, zany go-kart world. It was instant Nintendo magic. And the rest, as they say, is history. As clearly evident by the success the Mario Kart franchise would go on to enjoy, Nintendo caught lightning in a bottle.
THE NIGHT IT CAME BACK HOME
On April 9, 2006, I reacquired Super Mario Kart by trading my copy of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Limited Tin Edition). Only 40,000 were ever made. My girlfriend at the time bought it for me in 2004. Two years later, I turned it into Super Mario Kart, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2. The tin edition was going for roughly $25-$30 at the time. It goes to show you how great the retro gaming market was back in 2006. I made the deal with a nice guy off DigitPress. While I’m a big fan of the Halloween films, I couldn’t pass up on this golden opportunity to get four of my favorite childhood video games in one fell swoop.
THE NEW KINGS ON THE BLOCK
It was 24 years ago that my brother and I made the best trade of our gaming lives. Exchanging Death Duel for Super Mario Kart instantly made us kings of our neighborhood. All the kids living nearby came flocking to our place weekend after weekend, month after month. Being the only ones who owned the game, our quaint little home morphed into a madhouse as we had friends coming and going nonstop. Even now, whenever I close my eyes and listen closely, I can still hear the incessant chiming of my childhood doorbell. As a kid I would lay there in bed on lazy Sunday mornings trying to enjoy my peace and quiet. No such chance of that. By 8:45 every Sunday morning, like clockwork, Ben and our other friends were banging down our door. We were truly the new kings on the block.
FLASHBACK TO CHRISTMAS 1992
Christmas ’92 proved to be one for the record books. In addition to my mom buying me King of the Monsters, that same year our uncle bought us Death Duel. I remember the ad from EGM. It looked cool and all, but honestly, my brother and I were a bit disappointed. Of all the games on our wish list, Death Duel certainly wasn’t even in the top 20. We tried not to complain though as our mom always taught us to be grateful and that any gift was better than none at all. Still, Kevin and I went home that night talking about how awesome it would be if Death Duel magically transformed into Super Mario Kart instead (the game that topped our Christmas wish list). It was rare that my brother and I both wanted the same game — he was a “mainstream” guy while I was more fond of the obscure underdog titles. However, Super Mario Kart transcended all of that. It was just that kind of game.
And then, as we were talking, an epiphany struck us. We suddenly recalled the ad for Death Duel in EGM. We pulled out the latest EGM issue that we had bought weeks earlier and madly flipped through it in search of our great loophole. Ah, there it was. Not suggested for children under 14. I was only nine and my brother was 11. My brother wouldn’t be able to play Death Duel for another three years! And five for me! Not that we couldn’t break the rules but when the rules benefit you, why not follow them?
After showing the ad to our mom, just as we predicted she would, she promptly called our uncle to explain the situation and asked if he kept the receipt. Luckily, he did and since we hadn’t opened the game yet, it was ripe for a swap. So later that week my mom took me and Kevin to exchange Death Duel for Super Mario Kart. I remember thinking that it was the greatest trade in the history of mankind. I still laugh thinking about this Christmas memory. Who knew a silly ad could bring about such a dramatic turn of events?
Rather ironic that I originally acquired Super Mario Kart via trade, and then 14 years later reacquired it by trade. I’m hanging onto my copy this time for sure!
My brother and I played the crap out of Super Mario Kart that Christmas season and well into 1993. It was such an addicting game. My favorite character was Yoshi. My brother loved using Koopa. One of our friends, Ben, liked using Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr. Ben liked them most because they had the size to push others around. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had Super Mario Kart, so our neighborhood friends were banging on our door like bloodthirsty zombies. I remember many Sunday mornings where the doorbell chime woke us up at 8:45! Kevin and I quickly became the kings of our block, all thanks to Super Mario Kart.
THE GO KART RACERS
There are a total of eight racers, but really four different types. They come in four pairs which vary in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
Mario takes a break from stomping goombas, but this is hardly R&R! He’s sort of a jack of all but master of none type. He doesn’t have the highest top speed and his acceleration is only average. However, he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Also, due to his slightly bulky build, he’s able to hold his own a little bit even when bumped by the heavyweights Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr.
The man who lives in the shadow of Mario. I always liked Luigi because I enjoy cheering for underdogs and sidekicks. He basically has the same abilities as Mario but he lacks the size to adequately counter a Bowser bump.
The damsel in distress is out to get hers! She’s top of the line when it comes to acceleration, but only average when it comes to top speed. Look at those demon-possessed eyes. Yeah, I would advise against cracking any sort of “kitchen barefoot” jokes here.
Yoshi has always been my go-to kart driver. Come on, a dinosaur in a go-kart? You just can’t beat that. The beauty (Princess) and the beast (Yoshi) share the same qualities and both are especially ideal for Donut Plains and the battle mode. On the flip side, they rather stink when it comes to Vanilla Lake.
For the first time ever, you can control one of gaming’s most iconic villains. I remember this being a huge deal in my gaming circle back in late ’92. Using a special customized XXL go-kart, Bowser is as nasty as ever. Because of his enormous size, he’s slow to accelerate but once he gets going, there’s NO stopping that immense momentum… until you bump into a barrier, that is. That’s gonna suck. A lot. But as far as top speed is concerned, Bowser is king.
Donkey can shove the competition aside and is the only one who can truly withstand the impact of a Bowser bump. Both struggle with Donut Plains and the battle mode, but they excel at Koopa Beach.
Koopa was my brother’s favorite back in the day. He lacks in top speed but makes up for it when it comes to control. Koopa steers corners extremely well, which means you can stay on the gas pedal a little longer than most other racers when rounding corners.
Toad is similar to Koopa but rumor has it Toad has the slight edge in terms of acceleration (being just a hair better… again, just a rumor). Both of them are cornering champions though and perform well particularly on Choco Island. But look out for Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr.!
The mushroom is a classic, basic and useful card to have in your back pocket. When you’re at the beginning of a long straight path, or right before a jumping strip, press A to give yourself a short and sudden burst of speed. Remember using this to scream ¼ across the tracks of Ghost Valley 1, or Mario Circuit 2? It never gets old! ^_^
Ah, the green shell. The shell for real men. It shoots out straight, so that means you have to aim it with skill. Of course, some luck factors in as well, but the green shell is largely based on positioning, timing and skill. Misfire and it will ricochet off walls until it finds a victim. Don’t get in its way! Also, you can drop it behind you. It makes for a defensive tool if timed properly. Nice!
For less skill and a much higher rate of success, the homing red shell will quickly stir up words not quite appropriate for this site. Once in a blue moon you can avoid the red shell. For example, power sliding around a corner can free you of the red shell’s death grip. But the wise and discerning player will only fire the red shell when their target is right there for the taking. A banana peel or green shell can nullify it, however…
The banana peel isn’t the best offensive tool in the game, but it can be surprisingly effective when you’re neck and neck with the competition. You can also launch a banana peel about 10 yards ahead of you. While a fun sight, it’s rarely effective. Its best attribute isn’t its offensive capabilities, but rather its defensive potential. It has the ability to act as a defensive buffer to a red or green shell.
Although it doesn’t quite enjoy the glamour among Mario Kart fans as the vaunted lightning bolt does, the star has always been my personal favorite. It’s a combination of various powers: your speed is increased, you’re immune to track obstacles and enemy weapons, but best of all, anyone you touch instantly spins out. However, if you fall into water, lava, or off an edge, you’ll lose the power.
The game’s most infamous and adored power-up, the lightning bolt is both devious and dangerous. The fact that it’s so rare only increases its legend. Releasing the lightning bolt affects all seven competitors. Doing so shrinks them down which decreases their speed, but best of all, it allows you an opportunity to sadistically crush (literally) the competition. The lightning bolt is no doubt a game changer!
The coin is often viewed as the worst item of the lot, but it’s not useless. It’s definitely a no-brainer item though, since as soon as you get it, you should press ‘A’ to use it. It adds two coins to your count. Coins affect your overall top speed, with 10 being the max. So while it may not be as sexy as the other items, it’s handy when you have few or no coins.
Mr. Ghost is only available in Battle Mode, sadly. I wish it was available in the two player GP mode as well, but I guess one can’t have it all. The ghost not only snatches your friend’s current item but it also makes you “invisible.” Stealing your rival’s red shell or star in particular tends to lead to a curse word or two being uttered. And let’s face it, that’s probably half the fun of the battle mode
The feather allows you to make a great leap of faith. It’s particularly handy for Ghost Valley 1 and a few other tracks. Sure, you can jump with the L or R button but this turns you into the second coming of Michael Jordan. You can also use it to leap over an incoming shell (which is super satisfying) or a well-placed tricky banana peel. You can also use it to cut corners, too. Good stuff.
You get the items by passing a question mark tile. Let the randomness run its course or if you’re in a rush then press ‘A’ to stop it. It was (and still is) a fun gimmick that made Super Mario Kart extra awesome. The racing itself is fine, but the weapons add an extra dosage of strategy and fun.
MARIO CIRCUIT 1
This is by far the game’s easiest course, as well it should be. It eases you into the mechanics. There are no major tight corners. Instead, you get plenty of straight away paths. Not a lot of frills or thrills here, but that’s fine since there are 19 other tracks that are much more gimmicky. Mario Circuit 1 is plain but a memorable beginner’s track nevertheless.
DONUT PLAINS 1
To the casual observer, at a cursory glance, this track may appear to be a tranquil setting with a beautiful pond. However, experienced kart drivers know behind the serenity lies a deceivingly semi-tough course that can eat up unsuspecting novices. Some corners have loose dirt and debris strewn about. Ease up on the gas during these points or else pay the price.
GHOST VALLEY 1
Ah, Ghost Valley. The mushroom super jump bit, the feather trick and its unique elevated wooden track make this course unforgettable. Oddly enough, whoever built this course from long ago randomly inserted a jump bar in the middle. Remember the first time you used the mushroom right before the jump bar? Talk about a “holy shit” worthy moment indeed.
BOWSER CASTLE 1
Bowser’s got some of the trickiest tracks around, but his first one is fairly straight forward. It has some memorable features that help make it stand out. Midway through there are three zipper bars for you to drive over, granting you a quick speed burst. It was always a rush to turn the corner tightly and hit one of those zipper marks right on the, er, mark. And watch out for those annoying Thwomps!
MARIO CIRCUIT 2
I’ve always enjoyed the Mario Circuits because they have sort of a ‘pure’ untainted kart track feel to them. At the same time, there are just enough tiny gimmicks here and there that keep things interesting. This one is most notable for its famous great big jump bump at the end. Sabotaging players here was wickedly fun. Try dropping a banana peel just to the right of the second marker on the left side for computer opponents. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about
CHOCO ISLAND 1
A slippery dirt course way out in the desert, the infamous piranha plant calls Choco Island home. The terrain is dominated by bumpy surfaces and mud slicks so don’t get too pedal happy here. Be weary also of the mud bog that lies somewhere in the last quarter of the track — try using a mushroom here and see what happens!
GHOST VALLEY 2
While the first Ghost Valley track will always be the best one in my book, all of them are special in their own unique way. This one has a zipper for the final stretch of the course, with a small jumper off to the far right side… allowing you to take to the skies with a mushroom. I like how the small jumper is randomly placed there.
DONUT PLAINS 2
Try using the mushroom to skip the edge of the pond! This course is a perfect place to show off your great power sliding technique. Donut Plains 2 is littered with monty moles up the wazoo. They pop out of holes in the ground and even magically jump out of the grassy areas. If one latches on, you have to shake it off. I shake it off, I shake it off! But I keep cruising. Can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I got this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright. Er, sorry. [I don’t know this guy. Security! -Ed.]
BOWSER CASTLE 2
This place can be a little confusing at first. Luckily, Bowser’s kind enough to place some arrows to guide you along. You can choose different routes to take. Alright, the routes are basic, but having a choice is still nice. If you have a feather, you can pull off a really awesome trick but it requires absolute precision. It’s not as easy as the jump in Ghost Valley 1…
MARIO CIRCUIT 3
There are a dozen square question mark blocks waiting for you just after the start / finish line, which may allow players to get an early advantage right out of the box. There is a serious hairpin turn in the middle of the track, and just for the hell of it there’s a nifty turbo plate in the final straight away leading up to the goal.
KOOPA BEACH 1
The good news: there aren’t any tight turns. The bad news: the sand surface isn’t the best for traction. Your kart has just enough buoyancy that it can travel safely across the water… except for the deeper, darker blue parts. Touch that and you’ll be swimming with the fish! [HAR HAR HAR -Ed.]
CHOCO ISLAND 2
Strange, suddenly I’m craving Coco Puffs. Choco Island 2 has a much bigger patch of chocolate goo waiting for you in the middle than the first Choco Island. There’s also a very narrow road which is the perfect place to drop a green shell or banana peel. Avoid the heavy dirt off-road sections — they slow drivers down to a crawl.
VANILLA LAKE 1
Brrrr! It’s a good thing the engine of your go-kart is so hot because you’re going to need that warmth as you race around this slick frozen lake! It’s probably the shortest track in the whole game. Vanilla Lake 1 is filled with annoying ice blocks that really impede your progress if you can’t skirt around them successfully.
BOWSER CASTLE 3
Bowser’s castle tracks just keep getting fancier and fancier. This one gives you three different lanes to pick from. The inside and outside lanes have a turbo tile to zip you past the competition. But the middle path has two question mark tiles. It does require, however, a well-timed leap to acquire…
MARIO CIRCUIT 4
This is a fairly long track that’s packed with corners of all sizes and shapes. It’s also home to many pesky pipes looking to block your path. Nothing beats the thrill of successfully blowing past them on your way to the finish line. On the flip side, nothing’s worse than being clipped by a centimeter, slowing you down to finish in second place (or worse). D’oh!
DONUT PLAINS 3
Graced by two rickety old bridges, literally. One of them is missing some wooden planks and the second bridge is really FUBAR… requiring you to leap safely across. It’s so narrow too that you’re likely to get bumped if another racer is nearby. You can knock others into the pond, but keep in mind that it goes both ways! And to top it all off, the bloody monty moles are back.
KOOPA BEACH 2
It’s time for another bash at the beach! This beach is loaded with some serious greenery that will slow down anyone who drives on it. As it was with Koopa Beach 1, watch out for the dark blue patches of water. They’ll drown you faster than you can say “CRIKEY! FLOPPING CHEEP CHEEP!”
GHOST VALLEY 3
The trickiest of the three Ghost Valley tracks, this one is filled to the brim with gaping holes. Carefully navigate your way through or you’ll pay a dear price. Just like the two previous Ghost Valley tracks, the feather can prove to be a difference maker here.
VANILLA LAKE 2
A very slippery course that’s more lake than land. Advanced players know how to jump around the edges of the lake to shave a precious second or two off their time. To complicate matters, this track is filled with ice barriers that can bring you to a complete and fatal stop. Winter Wonderland this ain’t!
It would only be appropriate for the final course to be the toughest. Rainbow Road, in that context, certainly doesn’t disappoint. There’s no room for error with narrow paths galore and some very difficult to avoid Thwomps. Oh yeah, those plain Thwomps from Bowser’s castle tracks? Yeah, they’re now enhanced with an electrical force field. One touch and it’s Spin Out City. Rainbow Road separates the boys from the men.
BATTLE ZONES OF DEATH
Select from four battle zones in the 2-player battle mode. The first course is basic and pretty much wide open, while the second one has more nooks and crannies for players to take cover. The third one, surprise surprise, is the slipperiest of the four. The fourth, as you can see above, is the nuttiest.
The battle mode is real simple. Each player has three balloons strapped to their go-kart. The first to pop all three balloons of the other player wins. This led to some serious cutthroat battles. The Ghost icon was a bitch! Great memories…
We also had a blast with the Time Trial mode. Getting the best time meant bragging rights. It was a gloat worthy accomplishment any time you beat out your brother, friend or even your own records. Not only could you be recognized for the best total time but the game also took account of best single lap time. Nothing was better than breaking both the single lap and total time record simultaneously.
Ah, the performance chart from the game’s manual. The SNES had some great instruction manuals, bursting with both color and useful information. Kind of sad to think about how today’s kids will never fully grasp the simple joy of studying a game’s manual in the backseat of their car going home from the video rental store. Life today is better in a lot of ways, but I can think of a few things technology simply cannot supplant.
Super Mario Kart has a simple but effective ranking system. If you ranked at 5th or worse, you had to then replay that course. The point system is as follows:
1: 9 points 2: 6 points 3: 3 points 4: 1 point
I’ve always felt that this scoring system worked really well. Take a look:
Classy, elegant and yet simple. Gotta love it. The music that plays here is awesome and to this day remains stuck in my head.
Nothing is more exhilarating than a photo finish race. Check out how crazy close Donkey Kong Jr. came to my Yoshi — 1’17″52 vs. 1’17″53!
I love the set-up screen here. Super Mario Kart just oozes with class and brilliance. You start out by earning the Gold Cup on all three races of the 50cc class. Then do the same in 100cc. Doing so unlocks Special Cup. Earn the Gold Cup there and you’ll unlock 150cc. 150cc is no joke!
MUSHROOM CUP OVERVIEW
Few things satisfy like using a mushroom to burst past your top rival during that finish line finale.
Power sliding around a tight corner to zoom past the competition is simply the best. And if you have the star, using it right after power sliding around a corner really puts you ahead of the pack!
I liken the green shell to that of a bow and arrow. When aimed properly and used effectively, it proves to be both fatal and satisfying. While the red shell is a more effective weapon, the green shell is the one that allows players to show off their mad skills and ability to project accurately. Here I am setting up poor unsuspecting Koopa in my line of fire. Let’s see what happens to ol’ turtle face…
Release the sucker at just the right time and BAM! They spin out in a frenzy dropping coins every which way as you speed on ahead. Was there anything better than this? Even a mere child can use the red shell successfully. But the green shell now, ah ha. That, my friends, is entirely another matter. The green shell is for true Mario Kart masters
SEND IN THE CLONES
Surprisingly not, there came an inevitable flow of Mario Kart clones on the Super Nintendo. Shockingly however, most of them came out in Japan only. The most blatant clone is SD F-1 Grand Prix. Think Super Mario Kart meets the animatronic rejects of Chuck E. Cheese’s. As far as clones go though, this one is quite good. It has slightly better visuals than Super Mario Kart (October 1995 vs. September 1992). However, to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t play as well. The same can be said for all the other clones below. They’re all very competent and fun in their own right, but they’re NAGASMK (not as good as Super Mario Kart). SD F-1 Grand Prix is my favorite of the clones.
Definitely the least blatant clone of the lot, Battle Cross is what you might get if you threw Super Bomberman and Super Mario Kart into a blender. Who didn’t dream of that crossover at some point during the early-mid ’90s? Battle Cross is a single screen racer featuring six drivers and various weapon power-ups strewn across its nine wacky tracks. It does suffer slightly however from “It sounds better than what it actually is” syndrome. It’s pretty good but ends up feeling a bit “lightweight.” Still, it allows up to five human players and when approached with the proper mindset it can be a rather fun affair. Just temper those expectations going in.
Battle Racers took Bandai’s famous Kamen Rider-related characters and dumped them into a Mario Kart-esque game. I love the gorgeous sunset effect as seen above. It’s a very solid racing game but as stated before, it’s simply NAGASMK. Still, it’s worthy enough to warrant a look.
Finally, we come to the lone American clone in this lot. Street Racer features a four player split-screen mode. That alone makes it something to write home about. Well worth adding to your SNES collection, Street Racer has got its own bizarre personality and world. Give it a shot.
HONEY I SHRUNK THE KARTS!
The rule was simple. If you were “IT” you could pick any driver. The other person had to select Bowser (or Donkey). Why? They were the slowest to accelerate. The goal? Tag big ol’ Bowser (or Donkey). We found Vanilla Lake 2 to be most conducive for this makeshift mini-game. I can’t tell you how many hours we wasted on this. It was so cool because we felt like we had discovered an extra ‘secret mode’ to the game, which only increased its already excellent longevity. When shrunk, the small courses suddenly loom large, and what healthy child doesn’t love a spot or two of tag? It only added to the game’s brilliance and was a testament to just how stellar the game was. GP and Battle Mode are great and everything… but for sheer laughs and kicks, try out this miniature game of tag! It was classic childhood innocence sprinkled with that impeccable Nintendo magic that made it a winning combination
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Super Mario Kart was considered a universal smash hit. While today many are divided on where they stand — some feel it has stood the test of time while others think it hasn’t aged too well and that later renditions have rendered the original a bit obsolete — back in 1992 practically everyone was blown away. Along with Capcom’s Street Fighter II, Super Mario Kart was THE two player game to have on the Super Nintendo. Those two showcase titles were responsible for moving Super Nintendo systems by the truckload back in 1992. EGM gave Super Mario Kart ratings of 9, 9, 8 and 8. GameFan rated it 97, 96, 95 and 90%. Super Play scored it 93%. In EGM’s Top 100 Games list printed in issue #100 (November 1997), Super Mario Kart ranked in at a lofty #15. Their “Most Challenging Moment” blurb made me smile because I completely agree with them. It was a heated argument back in the late ’90s on which was better: Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64. I do love me some four player Mario Kart 64 but come on, the tracks on the original game was simply superior. It’s a debate that continues to stir passionate opinions to this very day…
Nintendo Power Magazine published their Top 100 Nintendo games list in issue #100 (September 1997). By the way, I found it cool (and such a wild coincidence) how EGM and Nintendo Power Magazine reached 100 issues at almost the same time. Nintendo Power ranked Super Mario Kart #32 while Mario Kart 64 placed #4. They hit the nail on the head with their very first sentence. I owned both Mario Kart games growing up, and while I really enjoyed Mario Kart 64 as well, Super Mario Kart was my favorite.
Super Play Magazine published their own Top 100 SNES Games list back in April 1996. Super Play ranked Super Mario Kart as the third best SNES game ever created.
Retro Gamer Magazine printed a special article on the SNES back in issue #23 (March 2006), highlighting ten “perfect” SNES games. Super Mario Kart topped that list at #1. Speaking of lists, I’ve been working on my very own SNES list the past 10 plus years.Whenever I get around to publishing it, you’ll see I also have Super Mario Kart ranked fairly high
A “DY-NO-MITE!” COMMERCIAL
It’s crazy to believe it’s been nearly 25 years since Super Mario Kart raced its way into our hearts. Time flies. It’s almost been 25 years since my brother and I pulled off the greatest gaming trade in the history of mankind (well, at least of our lives). This was the kind of game that brought all your neighborhood friends over like ants to sugar. Hell, even that one guy you barely knew! Whether it was the intense battle mode, the heart-pounding GP race, or even the brilliant makeshift tag mode we created out of a simple code, Super Mario Kart provided so many rich memories for me and my friends. It features great graphics (although it had to be seen in 1992 to truly be appreciated), excellent sound and unforgettable music, and finely tuned gameplay that only the Big N could perfect. The racing just feels right, and the creativity of the weapons and tracks only added to the game’s zaniness and appeal. Nintendo delivered another legendary gem and proved there was indeed life for Mario and friends outside of the platforming genre.
I still play Super Mario Kart to this day. It’s one of my “go to” games whenever I feel like I might be heading into a gaming slump. It’s like that tried-and-true classic on the menu that you always order when you want to be reminded of how good food can taste. Super Mario Kart always reminds me of why I love gaming in the first place. It’s got an outlandish universe filled with classic characters, practical weapons and power-ups to use that never gets old, and memorable courses that are still as fun to race on now as they were then. Almost a quarter century later, Super Mario Kart still finishes in first place in my book in many categories. And it remains one of the finest Super Nintendo games ever created.
Regardless of later renditions and what else may come in the future, Super Mario Kart will forever be a true testament to how GREAT video games can be. It’s the best racing game on the SNES and one of the best Super Nintendo games ever. Thank you, Shigeru Miyamoto!
For anyone who grew up on gaming in the late 1980s and had an 8-bit Nintendo, we all have certain games that we connected with. For many of us, one such game was Mega Man 2. Released in June 1989, Mega Man 2 rocked my world. It truly captivated my imagination. The ability to pick your stage, take enemies’ weapons and the fact that you’re a freaking robot made this game an absolute slam dunk. There’s not much left to say in 2016 that hasn’t already been said thousands of times before, but I still wanted to talk about this game for a bit. It’s an incredibly nostalgic piece of gaming history for me. Remember that intro? It set the mood perfectly and haunts me to this day.
I remember the first time I saw this, my eyes popped. I never really played the original Mega Man, so this stage select business was brand new to me. Back then all the games I had played were done in a linear fashion. The game had a set order of levels and you had no choice but to follow that order. Not so here. Capcom gave us the freedom to pick and choose. Of course, as we would come to find out, there was a method to their madness. The bosses all had a special weakness that required another boss weapon. So there was a hidden order if you will, but it’s always nice to be given a choice.
I selected Wood Man first because I liked his burly look. That plus I figured it would take place in a forest type level. I’ve always had a thing for forests in video games, even way back in 1989.
Who could ever forget the sleeping bats? As soon as you get near them they spring to life. The purple hare was always a favorite enemy of mine. It wasn’t big or tough enough to be considered a mini boss, but it was strong enough to sustain a few bullets. I love enemies that are a notch above cannon fodder. Of course, the big bad wolf/dog creature and his flaming breath is an image that has been burned into our memory banks, pardon the pun. Classic stuff.
Watch out for the bird which if not killed early on drops an egg that could be bad news for ya. Love the random sprinting chickens.
After defeating Wood Man, you take his weapon Leaf Shield. Discovering the proper order of a Mega Man game is all part of the charm and fun.
It’s your classic typical icy level where the surface is slippery. Ah, these images bring back such fond memories of a simpler time. I *hated* that robot rider with a burning passion. He always seemed to zap my health without fail each and every damn time.
One of my favorite things about fighting Flash Man is that his battle zone isn’t a straight flat surface. I like all the different tiers there. It just makes the fight that much more interesting.
This was one of my lesser favorite levels but it still has its moments. The giant spiked crane reminded me of Contra and the conveyor belt added a decent gimmick to this stage.
Those Metal Blades are deadly, slicing and dicing anything caught in its path. They become yours after you send Metal Man back to the scrap heap.
Like your typical forest and icy levels, you have your obligatory sky or air level. I’ve never been a big fan of these stages. Not crazy about instant game overs!
Those squiggly worms were a good place to “farm” for goodies. That big guy there tries to suck you in [Sounds like your standard Saturday night *rimshot* -Ed.]
One of the joys of playing a Mega Man title is figuring out which boss weapon works best on another boss. It’s a game of trial and error. Keep in mind too that back in 1989 there was no internet. There was no GameFAQs. And there was no YouTube. You couldn’t just find out the solution in mere seconds. Back then it was a real battle of wills. You traded secrets with your buddies on the playground. It was just a sign of the times. Signs from a bygone era.
When I was a kid I struggled with this stage. Hey, I was 6, OK? I always seemed to get hit by those damn floating Tellies. Especially right at the top just when I’m about to leave that bloody screen forever. Later you come to this makeshift ride with more annoying Tellies.
I remember watching my brother and his friends getting this far. I never could back in 1989. It’s funny how certain levels haunted us as kids, but we can now dominate as adults. The same applies for vice versa.
I watched in sheer awe as my brother and his friends made short work of Crash Man. I remember thinking to myself that they just accomplished the impossible. Ah, the innocent of youth.
I *hated* those laser beams. I never could get past them back in the day. I liked how the screen was dark except for when that enemy chucked his flaming ball.
Alright, another boss fight where the surface isn’t flat! [Wish I could say that about my wife… *rimshot* c’mon now what the hell -Ed.]
Ah, the mandatory water stage. I think pretty much everyone has the image of that giant robotic fish firmly implanted in their brains. One of my favorite things about any Mega Man game is reaching the boss zone. I loved the giant Dr. W sign and the “health bar door.” Come on, just look at it. It looks like your health bar!
Don’t jump too high! It made this fight a little more challenging than normal.
Those bloody Tellies are back to haunt me. And there’s your token disappearing block jumping section. Over a death pit, of course. Of course.
Heat Man’s weakness, surprise surprise, is Bubble Man’s Bubble Lead. Even I was able to figure that out as a kid. Thanks Battle Beast. Water always beats fire!
After defeating all eight robot masters, it’s time to head to Dr. Wily’s evil fortress. This reveals a series of more levels to further extend the game.
Some of the more iconic bosses in Mega Man history right here. They blew my mind back in the day, particularly the King Kong wannabe. He took up like half the damn screen!
It’s the final fight! Against Dr. Wily! *laughs* Right, because Capcom and “final” go hand in hand, and I’m not talking about Final Fight, either.
There were a total of six Mega Man games on the NES. People often debate over the years which one is better: part 2 or 3. My answer remains the same throughout the years, Mega Man 2. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but Mega Man 2 just hits a sweet spot for me that very few NES games do. Even to this day, I find it to be highly playable — it’s held up well over the years. If it weren’t for Contra and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, this would be my favorite Nintendo game. From the impressive visuals to the music to the whole novelty of it all, Mega Man 2 stands as one of the finest 8-bit video games ever created. Its lofty place in gaming history is firmly cemented.
I think back to the year 1989 and remember how excited my friends and I were playing Mega Man 2. Discovering each boss’ weakness, figuring out the best path to take and beating the boss with one pellet of health remaining… these were all part of the joy of playing any given Mega Man title. All those Saturday mornings spent in Ben’s garage that summer of 1989 provided a plethora of fond memories. It was the thrill of banding together as a group of friends and playing the game well into the afternoons. When we couldn’t just find out secrets and tips with one simple click. Those were some great times from a bygone era. Those memories stay with me to this day and I can’t help but reminisce about them whenever I think of the greatness that is Mega Man 2. Hats off to you, Capcom. This sequel truly made the Blue Bomber a force to be reckoned with.
Last Saturday night I was inspired to fire up the old NES for the first time in ages. I still love the system to this day but in terms of actually playing it, it’s been a while. I don’t get to game as much as I’d like these days due to work getting busier and busier, but when I do game I tend to play my Super Nintendo. But last Saturday I had the strangest and strongest urge to revisit my old friend, and my old flame, the 8-bit Nintendo. The first game I played? Super C. Now back in the day I recall playing it briefly, but never thoroughly, and I was adamant on changing that. The game initially kicked my ass until I enabled a few Game Genie cheats to help see me through. Normally I try to beat a game fair and square but I had no guilt here. I just wanted to see all of the crazy levels. This was my journey through hell and back.
Super C came out April 1990, two full years before Contra III: The Alien Wars. I can kind of see where the influences for Contra III‘s first level emanates from. Some of these sights here look awfully familar. Hmmm….
The first stage is pretty solid. Sure that first boss isn’t anything mind-blowing or ultra memorable, but I love how after you destroy all the turrets a red beating orb appears in the middle for you to gun down. It sets the stage as a lot of the bosses have compartments or turrets to take out first.
Indeed, playing Super C is like peering into the future. Some of Contra III‘s levels and ideas seem to derive somewhat from Super C.
It is. The first game’s jungle had lots of different platforms to jump on or off of. This jungle version lacks that. It’s pretty much a straight flat shot through, and that takes away a lot of the fun and intrigue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun level to work your way through, but it’s just not as fascinating as the original.
I keep dying and end back up with the weak pea shooter. Did I mention this game is double tough?
The plates come down one at a time and it’s pretty fun to navigate successfully, but I want some more monsters in my Contra bosses, damnit.
I do prefer the Waterfall level in Contra over this one in Super C, but that has been a running theme, no?
It was nice to finally go through this game last Saturday, even if I did have to enable a cheat code in order to do so. I managed to finish the game with precisely one life remaining. I doubt that I could ever legit beat this game, even if I were to devote 20 years to mastering this game. I love a good hard challenge but this game seems to cross the line and wander into super cheap territory. I do like it a lot, but I just wish it weren’t so damn difficult. It’s so hard that for me it takes away some of the fun if you’re playing this as is. I know there is a camp of Contra fans who prefer Super C to the original. But for me the original will never be touched, outside of Contra III: The Alien Wars that is. Still, Super C stands as a worthy sequel and it’s cool to see the influences it would come to have in Contra III.
Ranking the first three Contra games (Contra Force doesn’t bloody count).
1. Contra III: The Alien Wars
3. Super C
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.
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
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 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!
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?
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.
Uh, yeah, I meant to fall off that collapsing bridge. Of course I did…
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?
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.
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?
Indeed. After clearing the two turrets, wipe the base plate out and proceed onto level two. What great horrors and thrills await you there?
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.
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.
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!
Stage three… gotta make your way up to the top of this treacherous mountain. Keep your eyes peeled and your guns ready.
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.
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…
After a lengthy and arduous journey some 5,000 feet up this mountain top, you have to deal with the guardian from Hell…
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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?
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!
Brrr… you may not need a jacket but you will need lots of skill and luck.
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?
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.
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 100which 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.
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.
Nobody did bosses like Konami did. You could say that they were the boss of that domain… [You’re fired -Ed.]
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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!
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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!