The Mod Complex: Episode III- Gyromite: Special Edition, Castlevania III: Gold Edition, and Goonies II: Revised Edition

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE III: GRAB BAG

Yea, no theme this time. Look, I was sick as fuck and praying I didn’t end up on a respirator. But, today’s games are based on the stuff I played while hospitalized a couple weeks ago with viral pneumonia. Hope that helps.

Gyromite: Special Edition

It’s incredibly unlikely we’ll ever see a new Gyromite game. It’s one of two games designed for the Nintendo R.O.B. and I’m in the lucky position to have played the real deal once. The amount of set-up it took, which included hooking up an old picture-tube TV, was not worth the actual experience. Once you get over the novelty of this clanky, loud toy robot slowly moving its arms and picking up these tops (or gyros) that spun so fast you could cut meat with them, it wasn’t fun to play. But, it seemed like there was a decent maze-chase/puzzler buried behind the maddening slog of R.O.B. Unlike its evil twin Stack Up (a game so haphazardly conceived that it required players to use the honor system to keep score) Gyromite is a real game with real potential. Most of my older readers who played it back in the day know it not as a single-player game played with a toy robot, but as co-op game where R.O.B.’s duties raising and lowering the pillars for Hector are handled by a second player. But now, thanks to ROM hacking, you don’t need to hold two controllers to play this solo.

Professor Hector and the Smicks have legs as characters. If StarTropics being dead as a franchise is Nintendo’s greatest tragedy, Gyromite is the second greatest.

The Jabu’s Gyromite: Special Edition has all functionality mapped to a single controller. It’s slightly awkward because, while the pillars are logically mapped to A and B, picking up the radishes that bait the Smicks is now mapped to start and pausing is mapped to select. There’s no “R.O.B. Pause” where the screen would turn blue for you to signal instructions to R.O.B. Otherwise, this is the exact same game, with the exact same levels. The only remaining difference is the 999 second timer of the original game is now shrank to a more logical 300 seconds. So, now you can appreciate the artistry of a pretty underrated game. Weirdly, Nintendo had a thing for maze chase/puzzle hybrids. The only “true” maze chase, Devil World, never came out in the America. Wrecking Crew leans more specifically on puzzling, and Clu Clu Land.. well.. Clu Clu Land is absolutely trash. Gyromite isn’t exactly spectacular, but once you remove R.O.B. from the equation, it might the best of the four.

While Gyromite’s A Mode is saved by this ROM Hack, the B mode is just no good. In it, Hector is sleepwalking to the right and you have to move the pillars to make sure he avoids the Smicks and reaches the goal. It’s a mode that makes sense when you have the tension of a slow-moving toy that makes grinding sounds so terrifying that it sounds like it could catch fire at any moment. But it’s just TOO easy without that. At least the A mode still has the puzzle element of getting the dynamite in the correct order.

Gyromite is hardly perfect. It has NO difficulty scaling. And I mean none whatsoever. It’s almost remarkable how, even dozens of levels in, you’ll be given a level that has one specific path that must plotted, and the next could be a cakewalk where no strategy or finesse is required. I’m guessing that’s somehow related to making the level design easier on R.O.B. Maybe. I mean, there’s levels where I literally can’t imagine using that thing given how delicate the movement required is. Don’t get me wrong: Gyromite’s challenge is almost entirely based around the assumption that you’re using that accessory, and once removed, it’s a fairly easy game. And yet, there’s something here that’s charming and really engaging to play. Baiting a Smick to eat a radish right under a pillar and than crushing it allows you to unleash your inner disturbed child. We’ll almost certainly never see Gyromite again, and that’s a shame because when you actually sit and play it, you can see that Nintendo’s Trojan Horse strategy yielded one better-than-decent game. Get it here!

Castlevania III: Gold Edition

More like Castlevania III: Bronze Edition.

Most ROM hacks seem like their creativity begins and ends with “how sadistically difficult can I make the levels?” I don’t think Castlevania III: Gold Edition by LevelEngine goes quite that far, but it does render an incredible game (seriously, Dracula’s Curse might be the best overall NES game) into a frustrating exercise of agony. This isn’t simply a hard mode. It’s a scream mode. I think the designer was aiming for a Legend of Zelda second quest (the one where you enter the name ZELDA to access), but you know.. I didn’t think that was all that fun, either. I don’t have a lot to say about Gold Edition. Same levels, different layouts, but no true creativity shown. I did finish it, and I found it too often either forced players into taking damage, or had last-pixel jumps, or just took stellar level design and made it feel generic and bland. If Castlevania released a commercial Mario Maker type of game, this is what 99% of the top rated content would end up looking like. But, hard as it is, there’s nothing offensive, and if you’re starved for Castlevania III content, you can get it here. It might hit the spot, but it’s also a reminder the pros got it nearly perfect the first time.

Goonies II: Revised Edition

The only major flaw in Goonies II is that, assuming you take the intended order of rescuing the kidnapped Goonies, some of the final enemies are just too damn spongy. I think this was done to signify to players that they’ve entered an area of the game they’re not meant to be in until near the end. (1) that makes absolutely no sense in a non-linear game, where all enemies should be balanced and (2) THEY’RE JUST TOO DAMN SPONGY and it kills the pace terribly. If NES Rocks does one last update, the only thing on my wishlist would be to rebalance the dragons and the stone angels.

The Vice Household has nearly gone to civil war over The Goonies. Dad and Angela love it, while Mom and me are bored silly by it. Really, I can only tolerate the cornucopia of lazy 80s film child stereotypes (you know, the normal one who is the main kid alongside the tough one, the fat one, the nerd, the girl, etc) if they’re fighting Dracula. So, the Goonies isn’t my cup of tea, but let it be said, Goonies II might be the first truly great licensed video game AND the most underrated game on the NES. A Metroidvania before that term existed that has two distinct maps you must switch between, non-linear gameplay, and some of the most outstanding level design of any game from the 1980s. Plus, you use a Yo-Yo as a weapon, and that’s always fun.

I checked, and there is, in fact, no frozen wasteland where evil Eskimos swing axes at you underneath the Oregon coastline. Anyway, the camera for Goonies II is also revised so that you don’t need to be so close to the screen to scroll it.

This Quality of Life ROM hack by master 8-bit chef NESRocks leaves the design alone and simply smooths out some of the “we made this in 1986/1987 and had no fucking clue what we were doing” clunkiness. The built-in map is altered to alert you of the presence of hidden items instead of just your location, which helps greatly with navigation. Once you acquire the two different pairs of shoes in the game (one lets you jump higher, the other lets you run faster), you no longer have to pause to swap between them. You can press select to switch them, which makes the backtracking go faster and takes away any potential for sloginess. Most importantly, the confusing and somewhat tedious navigation through the point-and-click first-person rooms has had the point-and-click removed. You can navigate them entirely through menus now, which keeps the pace consistent and just plain makes the overall experience more fun. These seemingly small changes make the already ahead-of-its-time Goonies II feel like a modern adventure game. Like, seriously, this isn’t too far removed from 2018 indie sleeper Chasm.

For Revised Edition, if there’s a hidden wall that you need to take the hammer to, you just select hammer from the menu. You don’t need to actually move around the hammer to get to it. Select it from the menu, then press the button to confirm it a second time and if there’s something hidden, it’ll be revealed. Oh, and in the original game, you have to beat a candle out of an old bald lady by slugging her five times. In the Revised Edition, one knuckle sandwich is enough. You’re not a monster!

Goonies II does so many smart things on its own. It reuses settings like caves, houses, sewers, etc. This could make navigation hard, EXCEPT it changes the color schemes for each different set. Not just subtly, either. It becomes clear you’re in a different location. Besides the sponginess of a few enemies, the act of exploring is always fun because the levels are incredibly well designed. The combat, unlike the original Goonies (which never came out on the NES in the US, though it did see limited distribution in arcades for both Nintendo’s Vs. System and PlayChoice 10 coin-ops), is satisfying and the variety of extra items are nice. I just adore this game and it sucks so much that it’s unlikely to ever see release again. OR IS IT?

Best licensed game on the NES is another category Goonies II contends for. Seriously, why does nobody talk about this game? It’s really something special.

Nostalgia is hot right now, and if Microsoft and Nintendo can set aside their differences to secure the James Bond license, surely the current chucklefucks running Warner Bros. can reach out to Konami and get these games re-released for the fans. I might not love the movie, but the Goonies games deserve to be played by modern audiences. The first one is solid if obtuse and unspectacular (here’s my review thread on Twitter), but the sequel is one of those games where I’m driven crazy by the fact that nobody talks about it. It never makes NES Top 10 lists. It never even makes best licensed NES game lists, or best Konami lists. God, that breaks my heart. Goonies II is SO fun. When you hear about a movie-based game on the NES, your gut tells you that there’s no way it could be historically amazing. But, Goonies II really is. Yet, it has completely slipped past the history books and now exists as little more than a curio that’s unlikely to officially see the light of day ever again, thus driving people to emulators. What a shame. Anyway, get Goonies II Revised here.

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