Console Games Featured

Vintage Gaming – Super Dodge Ball

Super Dodge Ball might just be the ideal game from the 8-bit era that you didn’t play.  It’s exactly what the title says, your team (USA in our NES version) battles dodge ball teams from around the globe in a tournament.  Each team (from places like Iceland, Kenya and China) had different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes their dodge ball courts themselves provided difficulties, such as the Iceland court being…icy.  Each member of the teams could dash, jump, throw and catch the dodge balls, and also had superpowered moves if you timed them right while dashing or dashing/jumping.

If you check out the screenshots below, you might notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to last week’s OGT entrant, River City Ransom.  That’s because, in Japan, there was a whole series of ‘Kunio-kun’ games (Kunio being the main character in most of them), with only a few making it over here.  SDB was made for a few other platforms, and is currently available via the Wii Virtual Console.  In addition to the tournament mode, you had 2 player VS play, as well as a schoolyard brawl mode (also 1 or 2 players).  There is one thing that makes Super Dodge Ball hard to enjoy in it’s original environment – there can be many times where there is too much activity on the screen and the characters flicker.  It was a limitation of the NES.  Still, I got past it easily and it shouldn’t stop you.

I consider Super Dodge Ball an ‘ideal’ NES game because it does exactly what you need it to do.  It’s easy to learn – your buddies could pick it up in a few minutes – but hard enough to entertain.  The same goofily endearing graphics from River City Ransom make nailing a guy with one of your super shots particularly fun.  It’s simple fun, and we can all use that.  Check it out, won’t you?

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Vintage Gaming – River City Ransom

River City Ransom is one of those games that, if you’ve played it, you probably love it…but not a lot of people have played it.  I came across it by chance at the video store once, played the heck out of it, but it took me forever to find a working copy.  I finally did, though, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite games on any platform.

The story is simple, as you might expect from an early NES game.  You play as either Alex or Ryan, and Ryan’s  girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang leader (Slick) from a rival high school.  I’m not sure why Alex would go on the mission solo when it’s not his girlfriend, but those details were not important, or perhaps were lost in the translation.  Anyway, your goal is to punch and kick your way across town, fighting increasingly difficult gangs and bosses along the way.  If you’ve played Double Dragon or other fighting games from the era, you know what’s up.  What set RCR apart from them was a pretty solid RPG aspect.  You gained money from defeated enemies, which could be used to buy items to increase your stats, replenish lost stamina, and learn new fighting techniques.  There are also weapons like rocks or pipes spread throughout the levels, or to be taken from the rival gang members.

The game has a ton of 8-bit charm.  The blocky sprites are large and colorful, with goofy anime-inspired designs.  The music fits well, and changes when something important is happening.  The gangs are color coded by their t-shirts, and have names like The Jocks or The Generic Dudes.  When defeated, the enemies say silly things like BARF.  But make no mistake, the game isn’t a cakewalk.  The tougher gangs and bosses with wipe the floor with you if you don’t fight strategically and improve your character.

As implied above, you can play it as a 2 player game, though in the US they didn’t include the mode that removed friendly fire.  So feel free to beat each other up if you like, it’s fun.  That’s what the game is about, FUN.  You can play it in emulation on the NES, or get it for the Wii Virtual Console.  Well worth the cost if you like old-school beat ’em ups.

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Vintage Gaming – Destiny of an Emperor

I’m showing my age again to some of you young bucks, but when I mention my favorite classic RPGs, this one probably elicits the most blank stares.  Destiny of an Emperor was released by Capcom way back in 1990 for the NES, and was a fairly typical JRPG.  There were a few key differences, and those differences are what make the game one of my all-time favorites.

HISTORY!  Sort of.

The game is set roughly in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, which many of you will be familar with from the Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.  DoaE takes even more liberties with that history, having the game star Oath Brothers Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu in a struggle to save their village, then eventually save all of China.  Instead of hit points, you have soldiers.  This is an interesting change as how much damage you do to the enemy armies can vary based on how many of your troops are left.  Tactics replace magic in much the same way.

Yeah, I’m a big deal

You dare defy me?!

The gameplay is your typical exploration + random fights, sort of a mix of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, though there’s a twist – you encounter enemy generals in those random battles, and you can recruit them!  Your lineup typically includes 5 generals, with one in reserve, and one tactician.  Most of them are generic dudes, though, with random looking portraits.  You can tell the badasses when you spot a unique portrait.  As you advance through the game, only the best generals keep gaining soldiers (the Five Tiger Generals, their sons, Zhuge Liang and Jiang Wei).  So while there may be times you are better served with other guys, they are your go-to crew.  The story is interesting, with a few translation ‘quirks’.  Visually it’s about what you expect for a NES RPG of the time period.  The music is solid and did not bother me while playing.

I have good memories of this game, and it holds up well on replay.  I can still feel the tension of the final battle against Si Ma Yi, which took me several tries and I still just barely won.  It felt like a huge accomplishment.  Hey, what can I say, I’m a big nerd. You are probably going to have to play it via emulation, if you want to give it a try, hit me up on Twitter if you need help.  Enjoy it, won’t you?

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Old Game Tuesday – Uncharted Waters

This might be surprising, considering how much I love most other Sid Meier games, but I never got around to the original Pirates! game.  I was deep into war games and looking at it, it just didn’t interest me.  Another thing I found to be cool were Samurai (and by extension, ancient Japan), which led me to Koei’s games, such as Nobunga’s Ambition and Genghis Khan.  Young me enjoyed them, even though I didn’t have the tactical and resource-managing skills yet to do well.

All of which led me to Uncharted Waters.  I always rented whatever Koei games came out, mostly because I couldn’t afford to purchase too many games.  This one looked cool enough inthe store to buy outright, and it was a great choice.  The story goes like this:  you are the son of a Portuguese explorer whose family is going through tough times.  You have one tiny ship and some goods to sell, and you have to build up your fleet from there.  Once you get going, there’s a bunch of different ways to advance – trading goods (with an economic model that changes the prices based on how much bought and sold in certain ports), privateering (for any of the three nations represented), exploration (people will ask you to search for things) and of course, piracy.  There is a plot, advanced by doing the odd jobs that merchants ask you to do, which you hear about in the bars.  Once you gather mates to your side, you can add ships to your fleet, up to 5 in total.  Your sailing and combat skills (for you and the mates) improve with use, and there are quite a few options for customizing ships.  You can begin with bare hulls, pick the type of wood, how many cannons and crew berthing spaces, and so on.  You can specialize ships for trading/exploring by cutting back on crew and guns, but that leaves you vulnerable to pirates.  Conversely, go too far the other way and you can dominate any fight, but not actually be able to carry your captured booty.

The nice thing about Uncharted Waters was the openness.  There’s a storyline to follow, but if you’d rather wander around blowing up Spaniards, exploring the whole world, and make crazy money, you can do that no problem.  Oh, and I forgot romancing a princess.  The game is widely available via emulation, for NES, SNES and Genesis, as well as a PC version (which I’ve never tried).  The NES version is what I had, and I actually prefer that (despite the lackluster graphics compared to the SNES) because the SNES version added random people walking around the towns who serve no purpose but to get in your way.

These games were even more popular in Japan, with multiple sequels and even an MMO game (which they keep saying will end up here,  and at least had been in closed beta testing at one point).  I’ve played the sequel a little but never got to deep into it.  Let me know if you’ve tried Uncharted Waters and if so, what you think!