Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja and Arcade Archives: Elevator Action (Review)

Arcade Archives: Kid Niki: Radical Ninja was developed by Hamster ($7.99 said “tubular, dude” in the making of this review)

I’ve found the most generic, uninspired, bland, yet still playable game ever made. It’s called Kid Niki: Radical Ninja. I’m not sure what the story on it is, though it feels like something made to cash in on Dragonball back in the day. It’s a typical post-Mario platformer with the “twist” being you spin a sword in front of you to slay enemies. And, well, that’s pretty much it. Run right, and hit the attack button as needed. You can jump, and it’s works and doesn’t feel crappy. The controls are responsive. It’s not a badly made game. And hell, maybe for its time, it was a little more special. Probably not, since my play session with it wasn’t met with dozens of squealing retro gamers going OMG KID NIKI, HEART! In fact, hardly anyone recognized it at all. Maybe one or two people noted they rented the NES version of it back in the day. I’m used to having my older followers unleash the gushing for these titles. Not even a sniff of that here. So Kid Niki is truly lost to the ages despite being available in 2019 on Switch and PS4, and it’s not hard to see why. Every single aspect of it, from its look to its sound effects and action make it feel like you’re playing a fake video game being shown in a bad sitcom. It’s so typically 80s gaming that it’s like a joke game.

I had to abuse the interrupt save states to beat Kid Niki. The normal run-of-the-mill enemies are not a challenge at all. The same can’t be said about the bosses. Especially the last one, which is one the most unfair, impossible encounters ever. I had to save hit-to-hit because, during one phase, bubbles rise up from the floor so fast and so randomly that it’s really sheer luck to not get hit by one. If anyone gave a shit about Kid Niki, it’d be in the discussion for the worst boss in gaming history. I’d show you a clip but it has video capture disabled. Likely because the game sucks so badly.

Probably the best thing it has going for it are its boss fights. The tone, ahem, RADICALLY changes. The game does a neat thing I’ve never seen before, where hitting the boss inflicts damage upon it but causes your sword to go flying behind you, where you must retrieve it. Mind you, this doesn’t happen while making your way to a boss. It’s a neat mechanic that actually works to add tension and nuanced challenge to an otherwise bland game. I wish it did more things that changed up the formula like that. I think if Kid Niki had been remotely creative in its level design, enemy design, or play mechanics, the bosses would have gone down as some of the most memorable in classic gaming. They’re grotesque, they’re legitimately frightening, and pretty fun to battle. And that’s the travesty of Kid Niki’s mediocrity: that these quality boss encounters are lost to history.

Maybe it’s just me, but Kid Niki checks off so many gaming 80s gaming stereotypes that it almost seems like a movie prop.

If Kid Niki is the poster child for being less than the sum of its parts, Elevator Action is the poster child for being more. Unlike Kid Niki, my fans largely recognized it, which, duh. Of course they did! The franchise had legs. As I was typing this, I discovered Kid Niki actually was a franchise, at least in Japan. It had two Famicom sequels and a Game Boy spin-off. Who knew? Well, very few outside of Japan did. On the other hand, Elevator Action was at least well known enough to get a global sequel and a slew of remakes. I had one on my PlayStation 3 and it was the shits. But you have to be at least X amount recognizable to get a modern remake, so Elevator Action was remembered as a classic.

What’s really weird is Elevator Action isn’t a particularly good game if you focus on it mechanically. It’s slow, often feels unresponsive, and movement is pretty clunky. And yet, the fundamental gameplay is fun and genuinely exciting. Plus, for a 1983 game, it sure has an air of violence. What can I say? I love violence, and Elevator Action has this macabre vibe about it. When you fire a bullet at someone and it hits, it makes this incredibly satisfying popping sound that never failed to put a smile on my face. Also, I might have something wrong with me.

I actually played this in early September and deleted all my media for it. Whoops.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Elevator Action is a borderline bad game. It just does so many things wrong. You can’t duck in elevators because.. reasons. There’s too much waiting around for one of the slow-moving elevators to come to the floor you’re on. The level layouts can be so bad and nonsensical that they kill the pace of the game dead. And, frankly, I got fucked by unavoidable deaths more than once. So, why is Elevator Action fun? It really shouldn’t be. It’s a very badly made game.

It’s not exactly Mortal Kombat, but the murders in Elevator Action feel like murders, and that’s good enough for me.

I think it’s a matter of the concept is so smart and so immersive that you really only had to get the bare minimum working to create something worthwhile. Which is not to say the concept just works, period. Elevator Action Deluxe, the aforementioned PS3 game, was terrible. But what is here does feel like you’re a real spy really shooting bad guys. I’d love to see the exact same concept redone today with sharper controls and a little bit of blood. Make it feel like a real, white-knuckle espionage via elevator arcade experience. But what we got here defied all my beliefs that a retro game needs to handle well to be fun. Elevator Action plays like shit. Elevator Action feels sloppy. And Elevator Action is kinda, sorta, just a little teeny tiny bit fun. Well, fuck me.

Arcade Archives: Elevator Action was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$7.99 legitimately giggled at shooting bad guys in the balls in the making of this review.

Elevator Action (and not Kid Niki) is Chick-Approved and will eventually be ranked on the IGC Arcade Retroboard.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (Review for Nintendo Switch)

Another day, another Nintendo coin-op that’s damn-near identical to an NES launch counterpart that costs $7.99, which pretty much only nets you the same game that’ll inevitably be ported to Switch Online for free. Joy. Today, it’s 1983’s Pinball by Satoru Iwata of all people. And it’s not good at all. It’s horrible. It’s one of Nintendo’s worst published games.

But Mario has a very brief cameo in it, so Nintendo fanboys of the past convinced themselves it was awesome. That’s par for the course on those Nintendo black box releases. Imagine if he’d made an appearance in Urban Champion. It wouldn’t have the unjust reputation as the worst game Nintendo ever made. While we’re on the subject, Pinball somehow managed to not be that either despite busted physics and some of the the most cheating gameplay ever. Of all time.

I see London. I see France. Pauline ain’t wearing underpants!

You can tell Pinball wasn’t made by someone with a deep understanding of what makes real pinball work. A lot of people describe the pastime as “controlled chaos.” But I grew up in a house with pinball machines (specifically the Williams classics Firepower and Black Knight, both from 1980 and both by the legendary Steve Ritchie, both of which my Dad bought in the mid 80s before I was even born. I got two things from my father: a love of pinball and a predisposition to high blood pressure. Thanks Daddy). Pinball, when played at its top level, is anything but chaos. With enough time and patience, anyone can clock a table, learning every angle, skill shot, and the risk/reward factors of each target. Pinball is a very precise sport. Yes, sport. Fuck you. If curling, golf, or League of Legends are sports, so is pinball. And pinball, which is one of the great joys of my life, has only recently been successfully recreated digitally. It took gaming less time to figure out proper online play than it did to get digital pinball right.

This isn’t the snobbish “real pinball is the only pinball” hot air that you get from a many silver ball enthusiasts. A lot of people don’t have the money you need to truly get into it. A decent pin will typically run you $1,500 – $2,500 minimum, $4,000 for iconic tables, going as high as $10,000 for legendary tables. And that’s not even considering the amount of work you need to put into them to clean and maintain them. Turning pinball from a hobby to a passion is very expensive. The majority of people who do buck up and buy a table end up not liking it as much as they imagined they would. That’s why I like video pinball’s potential. If you don’t fall completely in love with the experience, you’re only out a couple bucks. As opposed to thousands.

And, in 1983, this is probably as close to looking like a real table as video pins got. But it’s also not pinball in the sense that you can play it like a real machine. You can’t, because you simply can’t clock Nintendo Pinball. For starters, the ball is alive and always vibrating. Because it’s always having a seizure, even if you hold the ball with a flipper to set up a shot, you can’t control what trajectory it’ll take or how the ball will react upon hitting walls and surfaces. It’s completely random and never consistent from one shot to the next. Nintendo Pinball’s reality lives up to the greatest misconception of real pinball: it’s governed by random chance. The ball also does weird things like somehow retaining inertia that it should have lost when you grab the ball for a tee shot. And the plunger is not easy to use either since there’s no analog way to fire it off. Probably 49 shots out of 50 had me getting the in one of the 500 point lanes instead of the 1,000 point one. Which also tells me that the game does more than just rely on its limited physics to dictate the ball’s path. It must be doing something more to pull the ball away from targets. Simple random chance odds tell me that the ball should be able to go down the center chute one out of three times, instead of once every fifty shots. So something is not on the up-and-up with Pinball. Other parts of the game make this even more clear.

Those slots where the cards are became the most maddening aspect of the game. Because the ball is so erratic and doesn’t have consistent weight or gravity, even if I slowed it down so that it should drop into one of the slots, it’d inevitably suddenly become a high-density rubber ball and bounce off. Also, this almost always happened to the left, leading me to believe there’s invisible suction that draws the ball away from targets.

It also doesn’t help that the table layout isn’t very good. The game is split into two screens. The upper one contains a slot machine that you activate by going down one chute. The numbers don’t stop on their own, and instead you must hit a moving target when it’s hovering above the reel that’s spinning. In over ten hours spent on this game, I only successfully pulled this off three times. This mostly owes to the upper level having three ways for players to be sent down to the lower level: the drain (the gap between the flippers), a portal that fires you past targets on the lower level, and finally a outlane on the left side. This outlane I genuinely believe is rigged with some kind of suction. It has to be. Too many times the ball bounced into it when it had none of the required moment to even come close to the opening, let alone go through it. Inevitably, if the ball even came near the entrance to it, it was like crossing the event horizon of a black hole: no escape.

And then you have the lower level, where the majority of available points are (if you’re playing the five minute caravan mode, getting points in the upper level is so slow you practically have to let the ball fall down to it). Here, there’s five slots that reveal playing cards. Get all five cards revealed and you get a drain stopper and score points. You can also enter a bonus room here. This is where Mario shows up, and it’s possibly the most busted aspect of the game. Ironically, the BONUS room ruined my best runs of the five-minute mode because sometimes the ball’s momentum would just stop on a dime and it would proceed to very, very slowly roll towards a drain. It could eat up thirty seconds by itself. In the NES/Famicom version of Pinball, my understanding is you’re not guaranteed to be able to enter the bonus room. In the arcade version, you enter it every time you hit the portal to it. Assuming you’re actually trying to score points in it, you must reflect a ball with a paddle similar to Breakout. Mario holds the paddle, thus earning the game acclaim from slobbering Nintendo fanboys the world over. If you successfully do this, Pauline will fall from her holding chamber. You must then catch her and deliver her to an exit (which again, she walks VERY slowly to). If you successfully pull this off, you only get 5,000 points. It’s such a little amount of points for such a high-degree difficulty challenge. But, far too often, the ball will launch in a way where it’s unplayable from the start. And, since you only get the points earned in it after losing your last ball, it’s not desirable to enter this room at all in the Arcade Archives Caravan Mode. Even killing yourself to get those earned points isn’t worth it, because it takes forever for them to be added to your real score. Why is everything about Pinball so slow? Pinball ain’t slow!

This is NOT exactly the NES version. In it, the flippers apparently don’t disappear as often, the physics are altered, and you have to unlock being able to successfully enter the bonus room. I guess. I have no means to play it. I suspect it’ll be coming to Switch Online soon. But the disappearing flippers becomes insanely annoying. They’re still there. You just can’t see them. You can cheat like I did and mark where the optimal spot on the screen they are.

In fairness, this bonus room wasn’t designed around a special mode of the game being surgically grafted to it 36 years later. But that doesn’t excuse why the bonus room is so miserable to begin with. Or why knocking down all the drop targets makes your flippers invisible. What in all the fuck is that? Why invisible? Why is the scoring balance so off? Why are the high degree difficulty shots in the upper level worth so little points, while the relatively easy to hit bumpers on the lower level worth so much? High scoring is as simple as getting the ball trapped in a cycle in them, having them knock around, and up through the card slots. I posted the fifth highest score in Caravan Mode’s global leaderboard doing this. It’s pretty much the only way you can do it. I also finished 28th in Hi-Score mode, where you must play with the machine’s default options. So nobody can accuse me of disliking Pinball because I sucked at it. I’m high up on all three global leaderboards.

Especially the normal mode, where high scores count no matter what options you use. I kept all the default options but gave myself five lives instead of three. And then I posted the second highest score ever recorded on the Arcade Archives Pinball original mode global leaderboard: 843,020. A pretty amazing achievement.

Too bad it’s fake.

To my credit, the game kept cheating me. What’s good for the goose..

Yep, I cheated. It’s a bullshit score that I achieved by exploiting an absolutely galling oversight on developer Hamster’s part. Anyone can beat if they have enough time and patience, skill level be damned.

Here’s how I did it. Pay attention Hamster: I’m about to close a loophole in your games for you. You’re welcome.

Unlike Hi-Score and Caravan Modes, where pausing the game to the menu forfeits your score and session, original mode allows you to access a menu, where changing anything but the game’s dip switch options keeps your current session alive. Included in this is a Save State Interrupt feature. For most emulators, Save State Interrupt should only work to save a game if you need to power down the platform you’re on. When you resume the session, it erases the save state. Hamster forgot the erase part. Erasing the state only happens when you game over. Using the save state, I could quit to the game’s main menu if I died or the ball wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I would just replay sections bit by bit, creating a new state every 10,000 or so points and dropping balls occasionally to make it look like it was a believable score, finally laying my ball down once I cleared the 2nd place score to make it look realistic. In reality, I considered taking the top spot (which is over two-million points, significantly higher than the next highest scores) but it took me hours just to get to second using this trickery.

It’s absolutely fucking insane that Hamster didn’t think of this, and it puts a taint on every previous Arcade Archives release. I went back and checked them. All the ones I own have this exploit in their original modes. And yea, I feel bad about it (my apologies to everyone with real scores I beat out making this point). That’s why I put effort towards posting impressive real scores in the other two modes. But, ultimately, even my fifth play finish in Caravan Mode was via dumb luck. My ball at one point got stuck in a cycle in the middle of the bumpers and went through the queen’s slot a dozen times in a row. I also managed to avoid the bonus room and the ball, for literally the only time the entire time I was playing, seemed to bounce in my favor. But when my best accomplishment is based on dumb luck, it sort of mutes the point of being one of the top five scorers ever, does it not?

I’m going to guess the top score isn’t legit either. Looking back, all the Arcade Archives titles have massive gaps in the top scores. You can tell which ones are real and which ones aren’t just by noting those gaps and at which point on the list scores start to cluster closer together. This is also why the scores in Hi-Score Mode and Caravan Modes tend to be closer together. Still, I can’t believe the Vs. Super Mario score is legit. Meanwhile, I cheesed Kid Niki’s global board too in another way (that review is coming up).

So yea, I hated Pinball too. And I’m not even willing to give it kudos for ambition for its era. It’s a horrible layout. The scoring is all out of wack and not balanced to factor in risk/reward, it has a busted bonus room, and it’s almost entirely based on luck. It’s more pachinko than pinball, and since this was made for a primarily Japanese audience, that’s probably by design. I hate to bring back this old chestnut, but I’m sort of forced to: gaming has come a long ways. But the Atari 2600’s Video Pinball from 1980 did predictable, reliable physics better than this warped version of pinball on a more advanced platform three years after-the-fact did. I have to believe Nintendo’s version could have done it too and simply didn’t. Pinball isn’t the worst early Nintendo game. But it is maybe the most broken. We exist in a world that has Ice Climber, so that’s saying something.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (despite this being a Vs. System game, it’s not called “Vs. Pinball”) was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 studied under Rosie Ruiz in the making of this review.

A fan purchased this game for me. All indie games reviewed at this blog are purchased by me. Retro AAA games I accept fan donations on. I matched the purchase price of this with a contribution to the Epilepsy Foundation. And then I blistered my thumb playing it. Also, I think Iwata haunted my Switch.

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.

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: Punch-Out!! and Vs. Super Mario Bros (and NES Super Mario Bros)

Ugh. So yea, these aren’t indies. But I’m currently on a harrowing journey of self-discovery as I delve into the games that existed before my time. And it seems like the arcade is as good a place to start as any. You’ve probably seen those Arcade Archives releases on Switch and wondered if they were any good or not. I mean, for the price of $7.99 for old games, they probably should be, don’t you think? Hell, for that price you wouldn’t be out of line to expect the games to also suck you off. I selected one and chose Punch-Out because I’m such a fan of the series. Ready to have your mind blown? I think it’s probably my personal favorite Nintendo franchise. Yep, I went there.

For the second game, I narrowed it down to four options and let my readers choose. They chose Vs. Super Mario Bros.

What did I ever do to them?

Bull. Shit. There is *no way* someone can score that many points in five minutes in Super Mario 1.

First thing’s first: developer hamster has created a fairly minimal package here. Compared to other retro games I’ll be tackling over the rest of 2018, what you get when you purchase Arcade Archives leaves a lot to be desired. You get the main game and, in the two I bought, a “caravan mode” which is really just a five-minute scoring competition with online leaderboards. I was *blown away* by how far out of my reach the scores were. I’m guessing cheating was involved for the top scores because I can’t for the life of me imagine that you can legitimately score 1.7 million points in Super Mario in five minutes (and the timer doesn’t pause between levels or entering the pipe for level 1 -2). For Punch-Out, I didn’t even do particularly well and finished in the top 200. Oh yea, a top 200 finish for a game that is absolutely fucking shitty.

I don’t often get to use the term “disgusted” with how a game makes me feel, but I am fucking livid at how bad the arcade Punch-Out is on Switch. If I didn’t know this was the original Punch-Out that spawned the console franchise, I would swear it’s a bootleg. The dodge/counter mechanics I love barely seem to have showed up at all, replaced with a mostly mindlesss button masher. One that I couldn’t finish. Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! is barely playable, with possibly the least responsive controls I’ve ever encountered. I’m not exaggerating when I say I would often press a button to punch four times before a punch was actually thrown. The lag is especially noticeable with the blocking move, which is done by raising your gloves up and down. Well, sometimes the gloves needed a couple of seconds before doing the moving. Same with dodging left and right. It’s safe to say Punch-Out!! is kinda busted.

There’s two screens because Punch-Out!! was created as a means to dump excess monitors. Anyway, this is Kid Quick, but really your toughest opponent will be “Button Slow.” Just take my word for it.

I can only review the version I paid for, and so I can’t find a better version and say the game is great. Having said that, I went to watch a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong and noticed some major differences between the version I paid for on Switch and videos seemingly taken from MAME or via Direct-Feed from an authentic coin-op. Most noticeable was on the videos, the referee counted slowly, whereas on the version I was playing, the count was *really* fast no matter if I changed the game’s timer to slow or fast or whatever. I happen to have a pretty sick MAME machine, so I busted it out and booted up Punch-Out!!. It made me realize most of my struggles on Switch were probably the result of bad emulation. On Switch, I couldn’t get past Pizza Pasta, the fifth (of only six) fighters even with the game set to “easy”. On my MAME? Without changing any default settings, I beat the game on my first attempt. It was night-and-day how much more responsive the controls were, and it made beating the back-three fighters (Kid Quick, Pizza Pasta, and Mr. Sandman) kind of easy. On Switch, I most often lost to Kid Quick by running out to time, because it’s hard to beat a guy who moves quick when button response time is slow.

By the way, if you’re curious, I wouldn’t give Punch-Out!! my Seal of Approval even with it working. All the stuff console fans associate with Punch-Out!!’s play mechanics are missing. It really just does feel like a button masher, nothing more. But it still sucks that the emulation is as crap as it is. And, given how short Punch-Out!! is in the arcade (six fighters? are you shitting me?) it really wouldn’t have killed them to have included both the arcade version of Super Punch-Out!! (which includes five more opponents) and Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! spin-off Arm Wrestling (which includes a cameo by Bald Bull) to give players some value for their money. I’d call Punch-Out a rip-off, but then I played Vs. Super Mario Bros. and learned what having a bonfire with your cash is really like.

I never came remotely close to beating Pizza Pasta and I still put up a respectable score. Though I should point out that everyone is placed in the same rankings even if you change the setting to “easy” and the timer to “slow” which seems kinda weird to me.

Vs. Super Mario Bros. was designed to capitalize on the success of the NES game and starts off just like the home version does. But then it slowly starts to warp with remixed levels designed for absurd difficulty. I’ve been told to think of Vs. Super Mario as being somewhere between NES Mario 1 and the Japanese Super Mario 2, which became known as the Lost Levels in the US. And yea, that’s probably a good comparison. Vs. Mario isn’t as insanely unfair in its level design, but there are tons of blind jumps and single-space ledges you have to jump to and from. It’s ridiculous, almost as if it were a modified version of a classic game designed not to be fun but to steal quarters from children one by one. Oh wait..

And it actually controls like ass. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that the original Super Mario was slippery, but Vs. Super Mario Bros. takes that to a new level. Movement feels imprecise and unrefined. It’s very subtle but it’s there and noticeably different from the NES version. I know this because I booted up four different versions of it, for Wii U, for the NES Classic, from the Switch Online’s NES program, and from an actual, authentic NES that we even had to blow on the cartridge to get to work. In all four of those versions, movement was consistent (which actually shows just how good Nintendo can emulate the NES). For Vs. Super Mario? Movement was *this close* to being like the others, but just enough off to be directly tied to a few deaths, especially with precision jumping and those aforementioned single-space ledges. I had my family play it too just to make sure it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. Though about half my family said they felt it played better on MAME, while myself and a few others felt the MAME version and the version on Switch using Hamster’s emulator felt identical. We all agreed that the NES versions control better though. And if you knew my family, you’d know we can barely agree on what time to eat dinner, let alone how accurate a game controls. So there’s that.

A lot of the tweaks are subtle in the early stages. In later stages, levels are lifted directly from Super Mario 2 in Japan. Levels made when Miyamoto was on his man-period or something because the game was so prohibitively hard that Nintendo of America asked for a different game.

By the way, while sitting to do this review, it came to my realization that I had never purchased any version of the original Super Mario Bros. before. I was born in 1989 and by time I started playing games, Mario had come a long ways. I think my first time actually sitting down and trying to play Super Mario 1 was on Animal Crossing for the GameCube. This apparently comes as something of a shock to my older readers who hold the title in reverence, but I didn’t like it. I had better Mario options by time I started playing games. I already owned and finished Super Mario Advance 1 & 2 by time I unlocked (via Action Replay cheatery) Super Mario for Animal Crossing. And I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t hold my attention at all. Which, granted I have a short attention span. It took me four days just to finish this sentence.

So actually, Vs. Super Mario Bros was the first time I bought any version of Super Mario Bros. out-of-pocket. I think the one on my Wii U I just got somehow, because I never would have bought it. Not even for a dollar. Some of my fans are aghast that when I finished the Switch Online version of Mario 1 this morning, it was the first time I had ever beaten Super Mario Bros. (By the way, I did it without using save-states!) Some people can’t comprehend that I, a relatively famous indie gaming personality, had never finished what is probably the most iconic video game. But I hadn’t, because it was a “before my time” game. Over the last 72 hours, I’ve had people tell me they’ve legitimately lost respect for me and my opinions on games because I never beat Mario 1, or that all my previous reviews were now invalidated in their mind’s eye. Nobody I respected, thankfully. And besides, I can now say I’ve beaten Mario 1. And hell, I even did the Minus World trick afterwards for good measure. Oddly enough, I don’t feel like my gaming life has been altered now. I’m still the same person I was before. I just have beaten Super Mario Bros. now. I don’t feel particularity validated. Should I be glowing or something? Will I get a membership card in the mail? Will someone show up and teach me the secret gamer handshake?

I don’t get it. Because at no point did I ever say any of them were stupid for liking Mario 1, nor did I take away from what Super Mario Bros. accomplished in 1985. Like everyone else, I probably owe my gaming existence to it. What I’m am saying is that I can’t play the game under the context of it being a new, fresh idea. Because it wasn’t for me. Based on the games I played before I played this, Super Mario had no reverence to me from a gameplay perspective. Controls are sloppy. Level design is basic. Not a lot of strategy really. And those opinions in no way take away from how important the game was for history. But saying Super Mario Bros. is the best game ever or still as good today as it was in 1985 is every bit as absurd as the AFI naming Snow White the greatest animated film of all time. Which they did. That’s why they had to quit making those AFI 100 Years, 100 Films specials. Because nobody can take anyone who would say Snow White has never been topped and is still the best animated picture ever seriously or respect what they think about movies. And honestly, if you’ve played games for the last thirty years and still think Mario 1 is every single bit as fun today as it was when it first came out and the BEST GAME EVER MADE, I respect your belief as much as I respect a Flat-Earther’s belief. Which is to say, not at all.

And that’s basically how I feel about Super Mario Bros. Being important to gaming history isn’t the same as being fun to play in 2018. And Super Mario Bros. isn’t fun to play in 2018. At least for me.

Anyway, Vs. Super Mario Bros sucks and I think even the most drunk-on-nostalgia fanboy would be insane to shell out $7.99 for it or any Arcade Archive title. They might be the worst values in all of gaming. For an extra $12 you can subscribe to Nintendo’s online service for a year, get a better version of Super Mario and a lot of other games. Including Mario 3, which withstands the test of time better and is still genuinely fun today. I paid $8 a pop for these and I honestly I might as well have wiped my ass with the bills instead.

Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! and Arcade Archives: Vs. Super Mario Bros. were developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Punch-Out!!, Vs. Super Mario Bros.

$7.99 each said “great bitching! You’re an up-and-coming critic!” in the making of this review.

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