Arcade Archives: Ice Climber

THIS, my friends, is the worst Nintendo game. Well, maybe not. Donkey Kong 3 is pretty damn shitty. And Nintendo has made a lot of games that are uninspired at best, if not actively horrible. Now granted, I haven’t played Stack Up, and unless Nintendo does a digital simulator for R.O.B. it’s unlikely I ever will. I’m not sure why Stack Up has such a bad reputation besides being a game that requires players to keep score via the honor system. It seems like totally functional concept that wouldn’t be bad if it weren’t controlled by an accessory so slow that you have to measure its movement speed in epochs. I know that part is true because I have played Gyromite. With actual gyros. It’s plodding, but it works. But, I don’t think the NES robot games should be in the discussion. They were never meant to be good. They were part of Nintendo’s trojan horse strategy to get the NES into retailers. Expecting them to be good would be like a pothead giving glaucoma a positive review because at least it gives them a legal excuse to smoke weed.

We’ll never see Stack Up again. I mean, that Ron Howard likeness license ain’t cheap.

Well hell, shouldn’t part of the requirement for a worst-game contender be that the game had aspirations of high quality? People find charm in Ed Wood’s failures because he was trying so gosh-darn hard to make something good. That he was giving his maximum effort and still ended up with Plan 9 from Outer Space is adorable in how pitiful it is. That’s why I found Press X to Not Die so obnoxious. It’s not just because it was bad, but because it was trying to be deliberately 90s FMV-bad. But those games like Sewer Shark or Night Trap weren’t trying to be badly acted or horrible to play. That’s just how they turned out. They have camp value specifically because everyone involved didn’t know they were making bad games. Being bad on purpose takes no skill or effort. Anyone can do it. Being remarkably bad takes ambition and the belief you’re making something good. Remember, it’s not really failing if you didn’t even try. Which, coincidentally, is what New York Knicks management have to say to themselves just to sleep at night.

The one less-negative thing I can say about Arcade Archives: Ice Climber is that it controls not-as-horrible as the NES version. I don’t want to use the word “better” to describe anything related to this game. It doesn’t deserve even the slightest hint of positivity.

I suspect Ice Climber was considered a high-prospect game at Nintendo. In the immediate aftermath of Super Mario Bros., they probably thought jumping and scrolling were the keys to its success and decided “well, Super Mario worked horizontally, so let’s quickly make a vertical scroller and corner that market too!” If true, that’d be a solid theory. But the problem is Super Mario Bros., for all the shit I’ve given it for its relatively bad control (compared to how the series evolved at least), was probably the best controlling game Nintendo had ever made up to that point. Ice Climber goes the other way. It has bizarre jumping physics that severely limit how much horizontal distance you can cover each jump, presumably to make it clear that this is the vertical game. It honestly feels like something is physically pushing into your character while you jump. So the characters can jump fairly high vertically but not to the left and right. Fine. And then they built a game not tailored to these specific physics that requires you to jump up and to the left or right. Not fine.

Ice Climber is so putrid that it’s insane to think anyone could have been satisfied releasing this in the state it’s in. It’s horrible. Maybe with tight level design built to the strengths of the jumping mechanics it could have been something. But Ice Climber often requires quick jumping reflexes and precision movement. Some of the floors are like conveyor belts that push you one direction. Sometimes there’s wind blowing against you in addition to the strange leaping physics. Sometimes progress is dependent on waiting for slooooooooowwwwwww moving platforms. If there’s multiple moving platforms, they obviously weren’t programed with any form of synchronization in mind. You might end of having to wait a long time for them to line up in a way that’s useful. That mostly happens in bonus section of levels, where if you fall to your death you don’t lose a life. But, sometimes you end up getting stuck waiting in the actual level part of stages. And mind you, there’s a penalty for lingering. Simply atrocious. Gaming has come a long way and we should all take a moment to be thankful that little things like moving platform design have evolved to the point they have. But, even when everything seems like it’s working right, something will happen like trying to jump to the level above you and clipping through the floor instead. Really, Ice Climber’s most amazing aspect is how little time you spend playing it where nothing is wrong or off at that specific moment.

Pictured here: the climber clipping right through the blocks. This is incredibly annoying. The NES version of Mario Bros does this too. The arcade version of Mario doesn’t, which is the only reason why I bought Arcade Archives: Ice Climber. I figured if Mario Bros’s coin-op fixed my biggest complaint about the NES port, maybe Ice Climber’s would too. It doesn’t. I was constantly trying to jump to above platforms only to go straight through them because I didn’t land flush-enough, even though the majority of my body was over the platform. If Ice Climber was a little more forgiving, it might be a fun game. Probably not, but you can’t rule it out. Also, in Japan, instead of furry little monsters, you club seals. I’m not kidding.

And so, yeah, this is the worst Nintendo game. The most annoying mechanically. The most boring in level design. The least rewarding to complete. And it’s not even historically important. Finally, it’s not even fun in a campy type of way. Being a bad game isn’t like being a bad movie. Movies are a passive experience. You just sit back and watch them. Games you take an active role in. I never thought there was value in bad games. Ice Climber is worthless in every way a game can be. If not for the fact that they wanted some obscure gag characters for Smash Bros. Melee and thought Mr. Game & Watch was too obscure, Ice Climber would be completely inconsequential to gaming today. Donkey Kong 3 is bland, but Ice Climber is bland AND bad. It’s the worst combination imaginable. It’s terrible in ways that almost defy reality. This was developed alongside Super Mario Bros. Someone looked at both games and said “yep, we’re on the right track!” It’s unreal that nobody said “look at how the Super Mario project is going. We can do better!” Ice Climber deserved to be lost to history. It almost was. And then Sakurai needed a joke for Melee and snatched it from oblivion. Funny joke, but not that funny.

Oh, right, Arcade Archives release. This cost $7.99. HAH. There’s, that’s my review of this port in its entirety.

Arcade Archives: Ice Climber was developed by Hamster.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 said honestly using a gun would be a kinder form of robbery than charging $8 for Ice Climber in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion

Reputations are a fickle thing. They happen for a reason, are usually rooted in some form of reality, but just as often as not, are completely inaccurate. I have a reputation for being a tough but fair game critic, which I take great pride maintaining. But among some, my reputation is also that I’m anti-retro and anti-Nintendo. Those are fiction. The anti-retro thing comes from the fact that I don’t bend the knee to every legendary older game based on their legacy alone. I hated Super Mario Bros. I hated Centipede. I owe them nothing and have no problem telling people I think they suck. But anti retro? Are you kidding? If the rep were true, would I have needed to pause my session of Gunstar Heroes just to cry tears of joy at how awesome it was? Because I totally did. It was so good and I was so blown away. And I even wrote a two-thousand word essay on how amazing Super Mario Bros. 2 is. If that’s hate, by all means, hate me that way.

The anti-Nintendo rep comes from the fact that I’ll criticize Nintendo when I think the situation calls for it. That’s really it. That alone makes you “anti-Nintendo” to the generation of latchkey kids raised by an NES or a Wii who live their lives under the delusion that Nintendo is their bestie. Or, even worse, an insecure deity, and if they stop kissing its ass for even a split second, they might end up never seeing more entries in their favorite franchises. Because, right, Nintendo is totally going to stop making Metroid or Zelda games if anyone expresses even the faintest hint of rejection. Uh huh. By the way, my rep there is, again, obviously untrue. I’ve named two Nintendo-developed titles my Game of the Year since starting IGC (Link Between Worlds in 2013, Mario Odyssey in 2017) and my site has been focused recently more on Switch indies and releases. Strange way of being anti-Nintendo: covering games that would serve to help their bottom line. So, I’ve learned to take reputations with a grain of salt and judge people and things by my experience with them.

“I told you to make my hair look like Elvis! This isn’t Elvis! His hair wasn’t green!”

I bring up reputation because Urban Champion is, by reputation, the worst Nintendo game ever made. There’s of course outliers who argued that the title belongs to Ice Climber, Clu Clu Land, NES Baseball, Stack Up (the R.O.B. game), or even later stuff like Wii Music or Pokemon Channel. Hell, I’d throw Kid Icarus: Uprising into that mix. The fact that they had to include an accessory just to play it without causing damage to your hands should have been a warning to them that maybe the game needed serious re-thinking. But, Urban Champion is the game that comes up most, at least from what I can tell. It’s not even close. The argument is never that it’s unplayable or broken, but rather that it’s so bland and uninspired that it almost defies belief. Even while I was playing it and uploading videos today, people pointed out that, after five seconds, you’d seen everything the game had to offer. A baffling argument in my opinion. I mean, how many seconds do you need to see everything Pac-Man has to offer?

I’d never played Urban Champion properly. I’d played it as part of NES Remix or a microgame in WarioWare, but I’d never played the real deal. I wasn’t sure what to expect. And then I turned it on, and I started playing it, and now I’m sitting here wondering how in the world this of all games became the worst Nintendo game title holder. Because it’s not. It’s not even the most bland early Nintendo game I’ve played. It’s fine, honestly. There’s not a whole lot of depth here, but the concept of two guys throwing punches on the street, high and low, jabs and heavy punches, works. And, in fact, being a fan of games where attacks feel like they have real world weight and impact, I liked Urban Champion’s violence a lot. The punches feel like they’re connecting and hurt. I’d be nice if the characters looked like they had damage, like a black eye or swollen faces just to really sell it, but still, it’s not bad. It’s almost unreal that a rushed, half-assed 1984 arcade game genuinely feels like a real fist fight between two angry people, but Urban Champion pulls that off.

You’ve got to appreciate that citizens of Urban Champion City keep confetti by their windows so that if someone below their apartment happens to punch some other poor SOB into a sewer, you can help them to celebrate their almost-certain manslaughter.

And it’s slightly more than a button-masher. It’s basically rock-scissors-paper with a fourth option. There’s two types of punches: a jab and a “knock-out punch” that, if you land it, always knocks a person to the ground. Both types of punches can be thrown to the face or to the gut, giving you four total attack methods. Every landed punch moves your opponent backwards. After a character is knocked back two screens, the third screen will always have an open manhole, where to win the fight you have to punch them into it. It’s a novel version of the round format, and really, a sort of precursor to Smash Bros when you think about it. They’re both fighting games where you’re trying to knock your opponents off the screen. I’m not saying Urban Champion is the grandfather of Smash Bros, but there’s some shared DNA for sure. In the same way humans are related to sea sponges, but it still counts.

Of course, the problem is that there’s not a lot of meat on these bones. Each opponent is identical in model with only the coloration changed. The difficult does ramp up, but rounds of Urban Champion are still long and slow. I can’t imagine arcade operators ever liked this. Then again, most of my fans weren’t even aware this was an arcade game. In fact, this (along with other current Arcade Archives releases like Clu Clu Land, Ice Climber, and Excitebike) were part of the Nintendo Vs. System that were basically made of slightly upgraded NES hardware. The games were interchangeable, with operators simply being given different marquees and other decorations to change the look of the cabinet. This is why the arcade version of Super Mario is called Vs. Super Mario Bros. It was a hugely profitable set-up, but it was limited to one, maybe two games, per unit. Nintendo eventually discontinued it in favor of the PlayChoice-10, which many of my older fans describe as “playing an NES, five minutes for 25¢ at a time.” Anyway, Urban Champion was part of the Vs. Series, though it’s so rare that not a single person registered to the Killer List of Video Games owns one, or even the board for it. As an NES game, it’s not hard to find, but it’s not exactly wanted as anything but a curio either.

Imagine how hilarious it would be if Urban Champion was announced as the next Smash Bros DLC. There’d be an internet riot.

I think history was a bit unfair to Urban Champion. If this had come out for something like the Intellivsion or Colecovision, it might have been remembered as one of the all-time greats. It even feels like it belongs more on one of those consoles. Maybe if it had been, today it’d be considered the rightful patriarch to games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Instead, titles like Karate Champ or Yie Ar Kung-Fu hold that distinction, even though I think Urban Champion is a better game. Compared to other early NES titles like Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda, Champion feels so damn primitive. Maybe it was the victim of the worst timing in gaming history. And being slightly bland or limited in play mechanics aren’t the only flaw. The police periodically resetting a round, seemingly at random, is annoying as fuck. The people dropping pots out the window, sometimes in your favor and sometimes not, break up the game’s flow terribly. There’s no special moves and I hate having to move manually after every knock-down and to start every round. But, I liked the no-frills fisticuffs it offered. Urban Champion isn’t the worst Nintendo game. It’s not even a bad game. It’s genuinely decent. I liked it. I’m sure people will think I’m being sarcastic or taking the piss. I’m not. Urban Champion is underrated. It has the most undue reputation in all of gaming, positive or negative. I’m dead serious. Check it out if you get the chance.

Now, having said all that, the package and value of the Hamster release is pretty terrible. There’s only three modes. The first allows you to mess with options, though the game defaults to easy so really the only thing you can tinker with is your life count. Which, even if you do, you can post a high score to online leaderboards with it. The second mode is high-score, which you have to use the default settings. The third is caravan mode, which is the typical five-minute timer mode with online boards. Thankfully, for this release, the timer actually stops when the action does between rounds. Nice touch. The problem with this mode is that you’re playing a game where you’ll be hitting the buttons a lot, including the B button. If you’re doing that and the time runs out, you reject your own score and it doesn’t get posted. I had a top 50 score and threw it away, and I’m fucking pissed off about that. It’s such careless, lazy, stupid design. Have a fucking warning screen or something before tossing a score out. It’s just common sense. Just because your company is called Hamster doesn’t need you need to display the brainpower of one.

And finally, there’s the price tag: yet another $7.99 game. And that’s what presents a problem for me. If the game had been $1, I’d considered it one of the best dollars I’ve spent on a game in recent memory. EIGHT FUCKING DOLLARS FOR THIS? I bought six discounted Switch indies for that last night. All these Arcade Archives releases (and their Johnny Turbo cousins) are terrible values. $5 is a good price for an old game. That’s an impulse buy. $7.99 is something most people will want to think about. And that’s where I’m struggling here. You see, I liked Urban Champion. I just detest the price. But, my rule here is that price and value are not what I’m deciding on. I’m reviewing a game as a game, not a product. So, for that reason, I have to give Arcade Archives: Urban Champion the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. And I have to tell people to not buy it for $7.99. If you get a chance at $5 or less, give it a chance with an open mind and you’ll probably walk away agreeing that Nintendo not only has done a lot worse, but that Urban Champion shouldn’t even make the list. But for $7.99? Urban Champion and this whole series (which I’m not done with yet, two more to go) can jump in a manhole and become part of a fatberg. A fatberg is a congealed mess of wetwipes and cooking grease that clogs up sewers. There’s also dozens of overpriced arcade relics on home consoles holding it together. I’m almost certain of this.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 (TOO MUCH, DON’T BUY IT, IGNORE THE SEAL OF APPROVAL) said “maybe if I make the seal of approval smaller nobody will notice” in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Urban Champion is Chick-Approved but as a non-indie isn’t ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

LCD Games of the 80s: Part Two

“Waaaaa, you didn’t play the good ones.” There are no good ones. But fine. Here’s eight more LCD games, some of which I got from here.

BARTMAN: AVENGER OF EVIL (1990 Acclaim)

If you can do the Bart then you’re bad like Michael Jackson. It’s true. Michael Jackson did a lot of ten-year-olds.

Okay, so this is from the early 90s. Sue me. This one sort of tries to do what the double-screened Game & Watch games do, only on one screen. Here you play as Bart Simpson. On the top of the screen, Nelson has kidnapped Maggie and is shooting rocks at you. You have to dodge them while waiting for the Bartman costume to spawn. Once you have all three pieces of it, the action moves to the bottom of the screen where you dodge watermelons and apples. Santa’s Little Helper will occasionally give you an apple that you throw back at Nelson. Ten apples and the gameplay loop resets. Once I figured out what I was doing, the game was still boring but at least playable. It’s better than the Simpsons Arcade Game because at least this is quick.

I speculated in the first set of LCD reviews that a major part of the appeal of these games was that kids thought they were getting away with something naughty by playing them. Even if the gameplay was horrible, it’s the idea that they were playing video games when they weren’t supposed to. By time Bartman came out, Game Boy was out and there were better options. BUT, in 1990 the Simpsons was considered bad for kids. Because Bart said “damn” and “hell”. Of course, like anything else, the controversy just made the Simpsons even more desirable for children. So imagine you’re a young person in 1990, sitting in church and playing a Simpsons game. You’d feel like you were the biggest little stinker in the world. I hate to break this to you, but they knew. Yes, they knew you what you were doing and you’d already gotten your punishment. You were playing this.

ZELDA (1989 Game & Watch)

“Zelda” is shorthand for either the game series or the original Legend of Zelda. But, in fact, the only actual game in the franchise that is called simply “Zelda” is this one.

This released three weeks after Game Boy in North America. So imagine going into a store and seeing this, which was relatively expensive ($34.99 in 1989 dollars, about $75 today) and Game Boy ($90 in 1989, or about $190 today). One was a permanent investment in gaming. The other you’d be lucky if a child pulled five minutes of enjoyment out of. If your parents opted not to save up for the Game Boy, I hope you didn’t follow their example of impatience and bad purchase judgment. Because it’s probably one of the worst of the Game & Watch games. You move left and right on the bottom screen, killing an enemy on the right. Then you climb stairs. This goes on until you fight a dragon on the top screen. It really does seem like it’s trying to make it feel as Zeldaish as possible with hearts and potions to use, but Zelda Game & Watch is soooooo bad. It makes the CDi titles look like game of the year contenders by comparison.

SAFARI (1981 VTech Time & Fun)

When Game & Watch became an unprecedented hit, there were a lot of companies that hopped onto the bandwagon. VTech was one of the most successful at getting shelf space. They did well. They’re still in existence today and were actually part of a massive data breach at some point. Maybe they should have stuck to the off-brand games. In fact, there’s a strong chance a lot of my older fans who THINK they had an actual Nintendo Game & Watch as a kid might have really had a VTech Time & Fun game. But unlike other companies (many of them Russian) who would just straight-up clone Game & Watch titles and slap a different name on them, VTech made their own, original games, most of which seem to retain the same “keep it simple, stupid” gameplay that made Game & Watch titles, if not good, still playable today. Safari uses the “cross the street” mechanics that were popular with LCD games. Here you’re an explorer who must.. avoid..

Is that………..

Oh God.

OH GOD!!

Oh. Yeah.

It was a different time.

THE TERMINATOR (1988 Tiger Electronics)

“You didn’t do any Tiger Electronics games! How could you do a review of LCDs and not do a single Tiger game?”

Yeah, I’ve heard the reputation of them. I feel fear too, you know. I never claimed to be brave.

Thank god Arnie would never be associated with another bad game after this.

Tiger Electronics’ handheld LCD games are universally considered some of the worst “video games” ever made. But, honestly Terminator isn’t that bad. It’s a really simple gallery shooter. Apparently someone included Tiger in MAME, but I’m nowhere near my MAME cabinet. And the computer that runs my cabinet uses a 2010 version of the emulator and I really don’t want to update it since my understanding is it might render some ROMs non-working. It’s a lot of work. I’ll stick to the simulators. Find me more of them that require as few clicks to play as possible and I’ll gladly do them. Anyway, this is an insanely, crazy simple game that’s boring as fuck. Move left and right, shoot, rinse, repeat. If Donkey Kong 3 is the current “it must be as good as the actual arcade version of Donkey Kong 3 to not completely suck” barometer, Terminator doesn’t quite make it. It’s that boring.

Though I do appreciate that you can’t actually see (most) of the bullets you shoot. I don’t know what kind of guns they use to fight aliens in Contra, but like, that’s not how guns work! You point one, you pull the trigger, and before your brain can process that you’ve finished the task of firing the gun, the bullet has already completed doing its thing. So go figure that a Tiger Electronics handheld from 1988 would have the most accurate depiction of firearms in gaming history. Well, besides Duck Hunt, which I guess works that way too and has a muzzle flash. I guess that whole paragraph was pointless. Moving on..

MARIO’S BOMBS AWAY (1983 Game & Watch Panorama)

I’m not freaking out. Even Pluto joined the army once, and Donald Duck dreamed he was a Nazi.

Another “cross the road” format game. Honestly, the best Game & Watch titles follow that formula. It’s simple and allows for the most variations without feeling like you’re just copying one game over and over. Here, you’re Mario fighting in an actual war (holy shit!), carrying bombs across enemy lines so you can blow up the camping soldiers (HOLY SHIT!!). I mean, Jesus Christ! Mario was a solider! With a body count! Do you wonder if all the “adventures” he went on afterwards were a coping mechanism fantasy to deal with the PTSD he developed from all the terrible atrocities he had to commit here? It can’t be ruled out.

Anyway, this is one of the better LCD games I’ve played so far. I almost gave it the IGC Seal of Approval but it came up just short. It’s, once again, too hard to get the timing down of when the torches will light the bomb fuse without being able to see motion. And also, look at Mario’s face on the device. That’s the face of a dude that’s seen things. Horrible, horrible things.

DONKEY KONG JR. (1982 Game & Watch)

There’s more LCD versions of DK Jr. than there are Army of Darkness DVDs.

This is not to be confused with Donkey Kong II or the Tabletop/Panorama LCD (which was made by Nintendo but released outside of Japan by Coleco). This is like a smaller version of Donkey Kong II BUT with a larger emphasis of using the vines. Once again, you have to grab a key and zig-zag Junior to the top of the screen to unlock your Daddy. Honestly, I think this game plays better than Donkey Kong II. It combines elements from several authentic DK Jr. stages and even has the “drop a fruit on the enemy to score points mechanic” that, to be honest, I would never have expected to have been attempted in one of these.

Is it fun? Well…………… no. But I did have to think about it this time.

EGG / MICKEY MOUSE (1981 Game & Watch)

Screw eating the eggs. That hat you’re using seems to have an unlimited capacity. Patent it and feast upon filet mignon for the rest of your days.

Nintendo reskinned several Game & Watch games to star Disney’s cash rat. Thus, Egg became Mickey Mouse and Donkey Kong Circus became.. well.. Mickey Mouse. That must have been confusing. Weirdly, Egg and Mickey Mouse both came out on the same day in August, 1981. Besides cross-the-road games, the other common, easy to execute LCD gameplay style is “spin the plate” games, where you have to judge which of several objects is the next one you have to touch. Also, this might be the first ever video game where you play as the villain. Because in Egg, you play as the Big Bad Wolf, stealing eggs from chickens. Wouldn’t the Big Bad Wolf.. you know.. EAT THE CHICKENS?

Imagine a parent in 1981 trying to REALLY make their child happy and buying both Egg and Mickey Moues, thinking they’re different games. You know this had to have happened at least once.

Well, I think the issue is Nintendo was trying to get the Disney license (they’d worked together for decades when Nintendo made playing cards) but wasn’t sure if they would get it. So they made two versions of this, and had to design a character that could seamlessly replace the Mickey Mouse character if they couldn’t work with the House of Mouse. That’s my theory, at least. Anyway, I’m not a fan of these because it becomes too hard to determine the speed after a while. This is one (two) of those games where Game & Watch Gallery had a really easy time making the concept more playable. Just add motion and poof: you’re 80% less boring. 20% being purely genetic.

Does that count as eight? Only seven? Fine.

OCTOPUS (1981 Game & Watch)

The Octopus should seriously come back as a boss somewhere. Great character model.

I’m guessing if any Game & Watch game, or any LCD for that matter, is going to break through the glass ceiling and win the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, it’ll be a cross-the-road game that has a unique, addictive play mechanic. Octopus is almost that. That idea is you have to wait for the tentacles to coil and uncoil, move to the treasure chest in the bottom corner of the screen and scoop up as much loot as possible, then return to the ship for bonus points. The more points you score, the faster the tentacles move. And that’s really it. It’s almost fun. It’s this close. It’s easily the best of any of the sixteen LCDs I’ve played so far, with Mario’s Bombs Away being a distant second.

And now I feel like I’m on a quest to find a good one of these LCDs. I just bought every DSi Game & Watch release, plus the first three Game & Watch Gallery titles on Virtual Console for comparison sake. Weirdly enough, playing these games does make me feel like I missed out on something. I’m gaining an understanding of the gaming upbringing of my older fans, and a better appreciation for the era that I came into the hobby, from 1996 – 1998. By that point, I never had to worry about getting stuck with one of these crappy “games.” Nope. I just have to hear older people say that this is all they had and they walked uphill in three feet of snow both ways to get them and they liked them. Weirdos.

Arcade Archives: Mario Bros.

One thing I’ve noticed while playing Mario Bros: people either love and defend the 1983 arcade original and its direct ports, or they love and defend the numerous remakes of it, some of which happened in games like the Mario Advance series, as a competitive minigame in Super Mario 3, or even as a Virtual Boy game. Regardless of the quality of the coin-op (spoiler: it sucks), that tells me that the fundamental concept is one of Nintendo’s biggest home runs during their formative years as a game maker. Of all their early titles, it’s certainly the one with the most staying power. And that’s kind of amazing, because Mario Bros really sucks. Sorry for those that I didn’t give proper spoiler warning to above.

For those that say “you’d of had more fun if you played (name of game) co-op”, I played Mario Bros. co-op. I didn’t have fun and dragged an innocent child’s weekend down with me. I’m a monster thanks to your peer pressure. Hope you can sleep at night now, because I won’t be able to. Also, you can’t play the high-score modes or caravan modes co-op. Maybe an option for a version of both would have been nice, but so far the only game in the Arcade Archive series that seems to have gone the extra mile is Donkey Kong, which includes three different ROMs for the game.

Okay, that’s a bit unfair. Mario Bros. actually has a lot going for it, including co-op. People have complained that I don’t always play these arcade games the “best way”, IE with a partner. Because I guess miserly loves company. But the thing is, my family doesn’t really like misery. They get enough of it from me. But, I conned my nephew C.J. into playing a round with me. He couldn’t quite comprehend what the game in question was. “Mario Bros!” “Mario Maker 2?” “Mario Bros!” “New Super Mario DX?” “Mario Bros!” “Mario 3D World?” “Mario Bros!” “I uh.. Mario Maker 1?” That’s not a joke, by the way. He couldn’t compute the concept. Then I showed it to him and I’m convinced he played deliberately poorly just to escape. He’s a shifty one.

By the way, if not for how bad the emulation for Punch-Out!! seems to be, this would be by far the worst of the Arcade Archives releases. Not because the emulation is bad. It’s not, except for the sound. My understanding is that all the authentic pre-Donkey Kong 3 Nintendo arcade games had strange sound programming that requires emulators to take actual audio recordings in .wav files in order to have, you know, noise. It made the sound effects of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. sound strange. But at least the audio was clear for those. For Mario Bros, sometimes the sound effects sound washed out, like they’re coming from another room. I’d show you a 30 second clip, but video capture is disabled for this one. It’s the first time that’s happened during this mini-series I’m doing. Which really means my fans are just being spared seeing me post roughly two-thousands videos of me dying in a fire(ball).

Probably the biggest difference between all these arcade games and their NES counterparts are the lack of cut scenes. NES Donkey Kong doesn’t have the “how high can you get” screens. Donkey Kong Jr. is missing cut scenes and animations. Mario Bros. is missing explanation screens. It made me wonder why they couldn’t do these things on the NES. The NES went on to do impressive things graphically. Well, I found out that it was a cost-cutting thing. Back in 1983, every KB cost extra money.

Yea, those fucking fireballs. I get why they’re there. Being an arcade game, Mario Bros. was expected to generate revenue for arcade operators. You can’t do that if players last too long. Ideally, you want a fun game where players last just long enough to make them think they’ve got skills, then die in a way where it sure seems like the player, or those watching, think they could have done better. They drop quarters, then die again in the same spot because it’s close to fucking impossible. That’s Mario Bros, only they forgot the fun part.

After a few stages, fireballs start to spawn with such breakneck frequency that it felt like there was no opening to flip the enemies over. I’d go to jump over the fireballs and they seemed like they’d always zag straight into me. You can kill the fireballs the same way you flip enemies over for lots of bonus points, but the vulnerable surface area of them seems very small, and the timing of even being able to stop them is so short that you’re more likely to die pursuing it than you are to succeed. And while all this is going on, the actual enemies you’re supposed to be targeting are still walking around, doing their thing.

The POW block isn’t as useful as you’d think. The crabs take two hits. The flies can’t be hit if they’re not on the floor. For the five-minute mode, I found I did better when I burned it early to shave time.

Mario Bros. goes from simple, reasonable challenge to unmanageable cluster-fuck of shit happening with so little transition in-between that I can’t believe this isn’t remembered alongside Defender or Smash TV as one of the all-time hardest arcade games. It’s insane how tough it is. And this isn’t helped by some of the most slippery, imprecise movement controls of any Golden Age of Arcades title. I actually longed for the lumbering, heavy movement of Donkey Kong Jr. multiple times while playing this steamer, because at least that was accurate. Mario Bros. actually introduces little sentient ice monsters that, if not stopped, will freeze platforms and cause slipping. To quote Dorthy Parker when she heard Calvin Coolidge died: “how can they tell?” Because this shit is already buttered-floor levels of slick to begin with.

There’s less bonus stages in the arcade version too I think. You certainly get the bonus levels faster in the NES version, which only opens with two turtle waves. The arcade game has three before you get to the first bonus round. I pictured a seedy arcade operator, shirt stained, cheap cigar hanging out of his mouth, saying “BONUS STAGES? FREE LIVES? DO YOU THINK I’M RUNNING A FUCKING CHARITY HERE?”

To Mario Bros.’s credit, the framework for something special was laid here. I didn’t like it, but at least the foundation gave rise to Super Mario Bros. and the modern game industry as a whole. And actually, the five minute caravan mode is best with Mario Bros. because it takes about four minutes for everything to become out-of-hand. When things get unplayable then, at least the game is going to end within a minute. Funny enough, I fired up the NES/Famicom version of Mario Bros. to compare to the arcade original. The graphics are a major step down on the NES, more-so than any other arcade game I’ve played so far. And, while the movement is more accurate and less slippery, the home version has a horrible Ice Climber-like glitch where you clip right through the platform if you jump in a certain way. So there were tons of times where I was trying to jump onto the platform above me and went straight fucking through it and back down to the level I was already on, or even lower. That doesn’t happen in the arcade version. That really sucks because now I have to turn my six-game marathon into a seven game one and buy Arcade Archives: Ice Climber to see if the clipping isn’t present in the arcade version of that, which I consider the NES version to be the worst Nintendo game ever. Fuck you Mario Bros. for making me do that.

Fine, but I draw the line at Clu Clu Land. I think that’s reasonable.

Arcade Archives: Mario Bros. was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 said the crabs and flies sort of got the shaft in the Mario universe in the making of this review.

While all indies I review are purchased by me out of pocket, a fan paid for Arcade Archives: Mario Bros. for me. I matched their purchase price with a donation to Direct Relief. Last year, they provided relief to my home state of California, and they’ll sadly have to do it again this year. They need money though. Give them some, please.

LCD Games of the 80s

WE INTERRUPT INDIE GAMER CHICK’S SIX GAME ARCADE ARCHIVE MARATHON TO BRING YOU CATHY BEING SUBJECTED TO LCD HANDHELD GAMES FROM THE 1980s

We what?

Oh fuck my life.

I never owned those cheap Tiger LCDs as a kid and Game & Watch as a series was all but dead by time I was born. The Game Boy came out in the United States just a month after I did. And both of us were discolored and coated disgusting fluids. Or maybe that was just me. But you fuckers haven’t shut up about how “good” these were on Twitter since I started this retro voyage of mine so I found a place that has simulated versions of them. I normally don’t go for playing games via unauthorized emulators here at Indie Gamer Chick (unless I need them to compare to games I paid for) but that’s not exactly what this is. So I’m taking a quick gander at eight LCDs from the 1980s. Alright, my body is ready. Hit it.

DONKEY KONG (1982 Game & Watch)

Nintendo has done a series of Game & Watch Gallery games. They might as well do another round and include them with Switch online.

It took me a while to figure out that you can’t jump if there’s a girder above you. The object is to climb to the second screen, activate a crane, then jump onto the swinging hook to cut wires that support Donkey Kong. Every time you cut a wire you end up having to start at the bottom and climb your way back up, this time with faster barrels and girders that are deadly to you. The concept is fine, and honestly the gameplay, while too easy and boring, is genuinely better than the Donkey Kong 3 arcade game. This is also the game that gave birth to the plus-shaped D-Pad. But I didn’t play with an authentic device so I can’t tell you how it feels. Still, this is a pretty historic game. Crappy, but historic.

Crappy and historic.. shit, this really is a Donkey Kong game!

DONKEY KONG (1981 Coleco Tabletop)

What an absolutely terrible game. Unlike the Game & Watch game (which, to be fair, came out a year after this and could learn from this game’s mistakes), this Donkey Kong actually tried to be as faithful as possible to Donkey Kong. It failed. It failed badly. It’s a fail whale. Hail hail the fail whale. I mean, look at it.

The yellow lines are the ladders. The yellow spots on the floor are supposed to be the rivets. The packages of McDonalds french fries are supposed to be the fireballs. This is Gaming Hell, people.

It’s clunky. Without movement it’s hard to know what stuff like the fireballs in stage two (which tries to mimic the rivet board from the arcade game) will actually do. It’s even ugly to look at. At least Game & Watch releases had neat, clear looking LCD characters that had funny, distinctive faces. They were so nice looking that they became a Smash Bros. character. This? Imagine being a kid in 1981, seeing this in stores, and begging your parents for this for Christmas. It cost $60 in 1981, which is over $150 today. A lot of money for most families. And then you get it, and you play it, and you realize there’s no Santa Claus. And your parents hate you because they just spent over $150 in 2019-equivalent dollars on something you can’t possibly play for more than 10 minutes before wanting to die.

Nice cameo in Gremlins though.

DONKEY KONG II (1983 Game & Watch)

Again, shockingly, this is more engaging than Donkey Kong 3. It really speaks to how bad of an idea that game was.

Not to be confused with Donkey Kong Jr., though the game actually stars Junior and seems based on his game. You start on the bottom screen, jump up to get a key, then zig-zag your way to the top screen, where you have to again jump for the key, then push it into one of the locks caging Donkey Kong. Unlike Donkey Kong, where you automatically go to the bottom screen upon completing a cycle, in DK II you have to get to manually make your way back to the bottom to start the cycle over. Or, you can sacrifice a life to get there. The concept is fine, but like every other game I’ve played, getting the timing down is hard because there’s no actual motion to track. It’s guess work, and if you have no sense of timing, you’re fucked. Also, there seemed to be a few times that I don’t think surviving was possible because any direction moved, including jumping, would lead to my death based on where the enemies were. Another turd.

DONKEY KONG JR. (1983 Nintendo Tabletop/Game & Watch Panorama)

It actually looks like something. That’s swell.

This is an odd cat. Unlike the Donkey Kong tabletop that was developed by Coleco, this one was made by Nintendo, presumably to show Coleco how to make a decent LCD game. Not that Nintendo’s Game & Watch games were amazing or anything, but compared to the shit Coleco seemed to have been vomiting up, they were incredible. And this is actually one of the better games. You grab a key and zig-zag Junior to the right of the screen, where you use umbrellas and balloons to free your Daddy. I’d still rather play anything else, but if.. okay WHEN.. I go to Hell, if Satan tells me my only options are to play LCD games, if this is on the menu it won’t be so bad.

DONKEY KONG CIRCUS / MICKEY MOUSE (1984 Game & Watch Panorama)

Mario is a cruel taskmaster. Which is the original origin story of Donkey Kong. It’s true.

It’s juggling. With Donkey Kong or Mickey Mouse. It’s boring. Please shoot me.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (1981 Mattel Electronics)

You’re warned if there’s pits nearby. ET really could have used that.

This is an interesting one that requires you to draw a map using pen and paper like a fucking savage. You’re placed in grid that’s full of pits. Somewhere in the maze is a magic arrow and a dragon. You have to find the arrow, then sort out what room the dragon is in, get next to that room, point at it and shoot the arrow. It sort of defeats the purpose of being a handheld game by needing pen & paper to play it, though I guess it’s not really D&D without those materials either. It’s an incredibly simple concept, but it works. It’s not really fun in the strictest sense but it’s a decent enough time waster. And with all the pits, I’m curious if Howard Scott Warshaw owned one of these.

MARIO BROS. (1983 Game & Watch)

I like the idea of Mario & Luigi having a boss that cusses them out. No wonder they’re so merciless against Bowser’s army. They have a lot of pent-up anger from their day jobs.

This one makes no effort to play like the arcade game. Instead, you have to pass packages between Mario and Luigi up a series of conveyor belts. It’s basically another take on the plate-spinning style gameplay that’s common in these LCD games. They’re all boring. This one is no exception.

TRON (1982 Tomy Tabletop)

The MCP looks good at least.

This one tries to recreate the light-cycle scene from the movie, but in over ten minutes of playing I couldn’t once beat the computer. Even when I had a speed advantage and got in front of it, it would always turn fast enough to hang in there. When I finally thought I had boxed it in, I simply died anyway. It makes me think the Donkey Kong Jr. game above had the right idea by trying to play tribute to the spirit of the game while also making something original that is more tailored to the hardware.

Shit like these games makes me appreciate my gaming upbringing a little more. I’ve had a LOT of my older fans wax nostalgically about the glory days of these things. I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending, but I feel a little sorry for them. Because these are terrible games. I honestly can’t believe they were ever considered an acceptable substitute to arcade games or even the most primitive Atari 2600 games. At least with the 2600 you could see objects move. Here they just sort of blink out of existence in one part of the screen and reemerge somewhere else. Maybe you guys from that time felt like you were getting away with something naughty by playing these at church or at school. Maybe they were bad deliberately, as part of a conspiracy. By teachers. Because compared to these, school work.. any school work.. would probably look pretty damn stimulating.

Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong 3

I’m going a little out-of-order here, but I wanted to get all the Donkey Kong games out of the way. Then again, I sort of already did that. Because Donkey Kong 3 is such a radical departure from the first two games that it really has nothing to do with them. I look at it and I wonder if people at Nintendo sat around thinking “I can’t believe we were the only company that didn’t successfully cash-in on the Space Invaders craze. Fuck it, we’re successful now. We can do this guys!”

They couldn’t.

The beauty of a screenshot is that you can’t tell that it’s Stanley the Bugman shooting DK here. For all we know, Donkey Kong’s coconut gun just fired in spurts and Stanley is about to be Bukaked on.

Once again, Hamster has put together a well-emulated package that’s all for naught, because Donkey Kong 3 is a terrible game. How come it never comes up in the discussion of potential worst Nintendo developed titles? Because it’s pretty fucking sorry. The aim here seems to have been to combine platforming with space shooting, but the platforming elements really aren’t a major factor in the game and the shooting elements leave a lot to be desired. Instead of dealing with space bugs, you’re dealing with garden-variety Earth bugs in a greenhouse that attack in waves and sometimes just straight-up shoot you with a stinger with seemingly no visual or audio warning it’s coming. Between these and the caterpillars that serve no purpose but to block your attacks, Donkey Kong 3 really didn’t seem to have a vision for the  type of fast-paced, white-knuckle gameplay that the genre required by this point. All it has going for it is the hilarious idea of shooting bug poison up Donkey Kong’s bum. Which is funny. Don’t me wrong. I’m not a complete ogre.

But seriously, three levels Nintendo? Three? Until this point, I can’t remember playing a Nintendo-released game where it feels like they just gave up. (Okay, fine, maybe Wii Music.) Donkey Kong 3 is the “weird one” in the series, but it’s also one of the very worst Nintendo games ever made. I genuinely disliked my experience playing Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., but, I was never bored playing them. I was bitching the entire time, but they were always interesting. The one interesting mechanic of Donkey Kong 3, shooting a centralized, heavy target enough to push it past a goal, is just not well implemented. There’s a powerful bug spray that, while it only works temporarily, carries over between stages if you have enough juice left in it. Getting the bug spray in the first stage carries over to the second stage, where you can hit DK enough to beat that stage in a couple seconds.

The problem is that they wanted a “climax stage” like Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. had with the rivets and the keys. But there was no way to implement a unique finale mechanic the way they designed Donkey Kong 3. So the climax stage is just a short wave where you push DK’s head up into a beehive. It’s lame as fuck. Which means it fits-in perfectly here. Is this the low point of Shigeru Miyamoto’s career? Actually, no. But this is probably the game where he found out he can’t work miracles. Nintendo tried for years to get their hands on that sweet, sweet space-shooter cash. They had Radar Scope, a game so boring they had to turn it into Donkey Kong to save the company. They had a game called Space Firebird that allegedly Donkey Kong 3 is based on, though I honestly couldn’t see it myself when I watched gameplay videos. There was a game called Sky Skipper that was so hated by players and arcade operators that they rushed Popeye through production to convert the Sky Skipper cabinets into. Really, I think Donkey Kong 3 was the last straw before they realized where their bread was buttered. History has sort of forgotten it, and those who remember it call it the “weird one.” That’s unfair. It’s the bad one. The really, really bad one.

So, what else can I say about Donkey Kong 3? It’s $7.99, like all Arcade Archive releases. It’s not worth it. Not just because that’s too much to pay for a small, short, obscure 1984 arcade game that sucks. But because they really should have just combined all these Nintendo arcade releases into a compilation. When I was complaining about the lack of fairness of the out-of-nowhere stingers on Twitter, longtime IGC fan Tobby Watson had the following astute observation:

This is pretty much the case for all early arcade stuff. It’s the main reason I’d say compilations of these sorts of titles are the best way to experience them now. The patience required to “get good” at something that is often luck based can be miserable, and having more games to play mitigates that disappointment a bit. Quarter munching obstacles like this are just a real by-product of the time and the industry.

I was born in 1989, and by time I was into gaming, arcades were pretty much dead. I wasn’t there to experience “quarter munchers” but shouldn’t the ability to munch quarters be predicated on the game, you know, being fun?

He’s right! I blitzed through every title in Midway Arcade Origins and Capcom Arcade Cabinet earlier this year and was downright shocked by how brutal they all were. Most of the games aged poorly (especially the Capcom stuff), but as miserable as I was, at least I paid one low price for everything in those sets. With Donkey Kong 3, I’m now $24 into this six-game project I foolishly committed to that overall $48 was spent on. Each game costing $8, none of them worth it so far even with online leaderboards and special challenges like the five-minute caravan mode. Mind you, a $20 a year Switch Online subscription nets you over 50 NES games with more coming (and Famicom too if you create a JP account to download the launcher for) AND Tetris 99, my current 2019 Game of the Year front-runner. Maybe if we were talking the best games ever made, $7.99 would be a good price. For Donkey Kong 3? I feel like Stanley was pumping MY ASS full of poison.

Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong 3 was developed by Hamster Co
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99’s coconut gun can fire in spurts in the making of this review.

Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr. is this baffling anomaly of a game. I like it even less than Donkey Kong, but I also find it so much more interesting. At least from a gameplay perspective. I think that’s because we’ve seen tons of platform games that involve jumping over stuff and climbing ladders. But the vine mechanics of Donkey Kong Jr., while not completely unique to the game, still feel like they’re exclusively the property of DK Jr’s legacy. Fundamentally, Donkey Kong Jr. isn’t as big a departure from Donkey Kong as fans of the game would have you believe. You start at the bottom left corner of the screen and zig-zag your way to the top. It’s the way you get there that feels so different. And somehow, get this, still feels fresh 37 years later. How is that even possible?

It struck me that the gameplay of Donkey Kong Jr. often feels more like trying to cross a busy highway than Frogger, a game that’s literally about trying to cross a highway. What could be done to fix the controls? I wish it was smoother to transition between vine to vine. That’s it. The idea of using two vines to climb faster and one to slide down faster is brilliant. It also creates all kind of defensive options. Donkey Kong Jr. is deceptively complex as far as early 80s games go.

Well, it’s the Super Mario 2 Rule: since nothing quite like Donkey Kong Jr. has been done by Nintendo in the nearly 40 years since the game came out, it’s able to retain the charm it had from the start. This in the face of decades of gaming evolution. That’s probably Junior’s greatest achievement. And yeah, Donkey Kong on the Game Boy (aka Donkey Kong ’94) had vines and the little alligator head things. But, you controlled a completely different Mario than you did in the early 80s arcade games. One that did backflips and handstands with silky smooth accuracy, and it was a puzzle game where you took a key to a door. It’s as far removed from Donkey Kong Jr. as a 2D platformer can be. There’s never been anything quite like Donkey Kong Jr.

And I hate it. Because movement is so slow and clunky. Now, there seems to be confusion over what that means to a game from retro enthusiasts. Yea, if you put enough time into a game with poor controls, you can get used to them. Maybe even to the point that you instinctively compensate for the shortcomings the controls have and they become a total non-factor for you. This is absolutely possible. But that a player can get good at using bad controls doesn’t change the fact that the controls are bad. Donkey Kong Jr. controls the worst of the original “trilogy” of Nintendo games. Donkey Kong and Popeye control bad, but they’re Mario Worlds apart from how bad DK Jr. feels. It’s always sluggish, and it hurt my enjoyment of it so much.

Both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. really stand out because the best levels are the “climax” in terms of the narrative. I prefer removing the rivets in Donkey Kong’s final board to pushing the keys up into the locks in Junior’s. That’s the one gameplay mechanic from Donkey Kong that I feel has legs for more stages.

Such a shame, because it feels like it has the highest ceiling for enjoyment of any of those original Nintendo arcade games. And the most potential for more stages not yet created. Myself and others have been pondering on Twitter how viable it would be for Nintendo to bring out new releases of these arcade games, not in arcades but as downloadable titles, that simply add dozens, maybe even 100, new levels. Not like Donkey Kong ’94 did, but using the actual arcade hardware. Hell, find a ROM hacker and do it. It worked for Sega and Sonic Mania, which became probably the best 2D Sonic game ever. It sold great. It was critically acclaimed. Nintendo could do that with Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr and it would get attention and sell. There’s really no reason not to do it.

I guess any discussion of Donkey Kong Jr. has to include talking about Mario being the villain. Or is he? I mean, what did we know about Donkey Kong? He apparently kidnaps women against their will and tries to murder their rescuers by crushing them with barrels or burning them alive with fireballs. That’s who you’re trying to rescue in Donkey Kong Jr. Mario is NOT the villain. Junior is! This is the first verified game where you play as the person who is trying to make the world a worse place! It’s historic in ways nobody realized!

But, I’d want more fixed with Donkey Kong Jr. than adding levels. I’d want more responsible controls. The classic gaming fans would scream bloody murder over that, saying “that’s not MY Donkey Kong Jr.” And.. yeah, it wouldn’t be. It’d be better. It’d be Donkey Kong Jr. finally realizing its potential. Actually, Donkey Kong the character is just fine. He’s a staple in gaming still, in 2019. Junior is the one that history kind of screwed. He was a racer in the original Mario Kart, but they shit canned him for Donkey Kong. He was in Mario Maker, but that was one of the most meaningless cameos ever. This concept of making a new version of Donkey Kong Jr. with the original arcade graphics but more levels and better controls would be the perfect way for him to come back. Otherwise, the character is just sort of rotting on the vine.

Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong Jr. was developed by Hamster Co.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 (too much) noted the emulation again is perfectly fine in the making of this review.

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