Opinion: The Nintendo Switch is the best console of all time.

When people ask what console I spend the most time on, I almost always reply by telling them that it’s the Switch. Four years into its lifecycle, it’d be easy to assume that the Nintendo Switch is on its last legs. And, especially with all of the rumors about a Super Nintendo Switch/Nintendo Switch Pro that have been circulating for the past year or two, that may actually be true. But regardless of whether or not the Nintendo Switch feels a little underpowered when compared to the Xbox Series X or Playstation 5, there’s no denying how outright incredible the console and its games itself are. 

While I’ve only had my Switch for just under two years now, the console has become a piece of hardware that I can’t live without. In fact, I’d actually go as far as to suggest that the Nintendo Switch is actually my favorite console of all time and consider it as the best value on the market these days for gamers looking to invest in a new console.

So today, I’m going to round up 5 reasons why my Switch is so beloved, as well as why non-Switch owners should consider jumping on the Nintendo Switch bandwagon, regardless of whether or not that’s via the current Nintendo Switch, a Nintendo Switch Lite, or any new-fangled Super-Dooper-Nintendo-Switch-Fami-Pro-Cube-U. 

Console Experiences on the Go

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

For a lot of gamers, the Nintendo Switch signified the moment that portable and home gaming properly converged. It was the first time that gamers could take near-perfect representations of games like Borderlands 2 or Final Fantasy X/X-2 on the go without needing to compromise on the games graphics or performance. That’s not to knock consoles like the PS Vita which had both of those games and, to-date, the most convenient way to play Persona 4 (come on Atlus, bring it to the Switch already), but the Nintendo Switch was the first time that playing those games on the go didn’t feel like a compromised experience. 

For the longest time, I always held the belief that taking console experiences on the go was a fairly futile endeavor. I based this opinion off my experiences with playing console games portability as a kid, which came in the form of playing my N64 on the DVD player in my parents childhood van, playing ports of games like Super Mario 64 or Ridge Racer 64 on my Nintendo DS, or playing games that were heavily modeled after their console counterparts such as Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron or Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories on the PSP.

And, honestly, those early experiences with those games tended to always disappoint me. I always ended up wishing I could just play those games on a normal TV or take advantage of the added buttons/form factor of a standard controller. And it was actually because of this that I ended up sleeping on how great the Nintendo DS was for a long time, as those N64 ports were the first and only games I had for the console for a while and I couldn’t shake the feeling that their original releases were more enjoyable.

But that all changed when I got the Nintendo Switch. It’s form factor and ability to migrate between portable and TV play at your own leisure means that I can enjoy the game on a TV whenever I want to. And it also means that I can take that game on the go or play it portably when I want to, for example, passively play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or grind on Final Fantasy VII while I watch Netflix.

While it’s true that multiplatform games, and even titles that are exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, can take a pretty noticeable hit when going from docked to handheld mode, the fact that massive and beloved games like The Witcher 3, the Outerworlds, or Doom Eternal can even run on a handheld is honestly pretty incredible. And while you are trading performance and visuals for these games in order to get them running on the Switch, it’s still pretty awesome that the option of playing them on a hybrid console exists to begin with.

Controller Accessibility 

Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

Building off of that, I’m also a huge fan of the fact that nearly any bluetooth or wired controller can be used on the Switch with little fuss. For the controllers that don’t natively work on the Nintendo Switch, such as a PS4 or Xbox One controller, you can also get those connected to your console via an adaptor that you can pick up for relatively cheap online. For guys like me that tend to play a wide variety of games that span multiple generations, being able to use my controller of choice for any given game is a huge win, especially when you bring into account the fact that certain controllers are better optimized for specific types of games. 

Take for instance the SN30 line of controllers, which are my go-to controller for playing most NES, SNES or platformer games in general. These controllers have a great cross shaped D-Pad on them that feel perfect for these types of games.

Another great example is my wireless Sega Saturn controller. While unfortunately not bluetooth, the controller pairs with my Switch via a USB dongle just fine and allows me to play stuff off the Sega Genesis collection I have for my switch with slightly more authentic controls. The button mapping isn’t perfect here, but it’s still really fun to play games this way. Plus, it has what has to be the single best DPad I’ve ever used on it and also has a button layout that’s perfectly suited for fighting games.

There’s also the Nintendo Switch Pro controller which is genuinely the most comfortable controller I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It’s essentially an Xbox One controller, but much lighter and feels so natural for, basically, any 3D game.

And, to round things out, there’s obviously the controller that’s bundled with the console itself, the joycons. While joycons tend to get a bad rap online, due to drift issues and being just a bit too small and un-ergonomic, they’re still a pretty good way to control your games. In fact, I tend to play Tetris 99 for a bit every day and I genuinely think that Joy Cons are the best/most accurate way to control your movement in that game. Outside of Tetris 99 though… yeah, I’d rather have a regular old DPad.

Either way, the fact that I can even choose the type of controller that I’d want to use on my Nintendo Switch to begin with is pretty awesome. And this isn’t even every type of controller you can use on your Switch; there are literally dozens of different controller types out there and different converters and peripherals that allow you to use anything from a Gamecube controller to a real SNES controller on your system. There’s, quite literally, an infinite number of ways you can control your Switch!

The First Party Exclusives

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part of the Switch, which encompasses the rest of the reasons on this list, yet… the actual game library.

The Nintendo Switch has one of the most varied and unique first party lineups that I’ve ever seen in a video game console. If you run down a list of first party Switch games, you’ll see everything from party games like Clubhouse 51 and Mario Party, to wildly creative and joyous platformers like Super Mario Odyssey or Yoshi’s Crafted World, and games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which genuinely belong in it’s own category. Oh, and the Switch also has Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was the biggest/most important release of 2020 for a ton of gamers in quarantine.

And those don’t even account for all the Switch has to offer, as there are other games on the console like 1-2 Switch, Ringfit Adventure, and Arms, which approach gameplay in a more unique and immersive way than other Switch titles do. 

While first party exclusives are important for any console, Switch exclusives feel especially unique. There’s a legacy to a lot of Nintendo’s first party franchises that elevates these games to unforeseen heights. I don’t often find myself drawn to the exclusives found on Microsoft or Sony’s consoles, but I almost always am at least curious about what Nintendo’s cooking up. Even if the game itself doesn’t end up appealing to me or I just don’t pick up the game, I’m still always initially curious about what they’re working on. A great example of this would be Arms. I actually don’t care for the game all that much and have only played it a few times as a trial provided on Nintendo Switch Online, but I remember being intrigued by the premise of the title itself, and totally see its appeal. 

Switch Ports

Photo by Michael Adeleye on Pexels.com

And where Nintendo’s first party offerings fall short, there’s always the invaluable presence of third party developers. HoweverI’m not going to dive into the droves of quality third party releases for the console, nor am I going to dive into the untapped depths of indie support that Nintendo’s Switchy-boy has going for it. Instead, I’m going to focus on the number of older generation ports that this console has, and get a little personal and share why I think that’s awesome.

See, I kinda fell out of gaming around 2012 or 2013. I was going through a lot of stuff at the time and didn’t really have any money for an Xbox One or a PS4. And, while I did love my Wii U, I also didn’t exactly get that many games for it outside of Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D World. And because of that, I kinda fell out of sync with gaming for a while; I still liked video games and enjoyed playing them, but when I eventually did pick up an Xbox One in 2018, I was pretty confused and underwhelmed with the games I ended up getting for it. Nothing really impressed me on the console and I honestly ended up mostly just playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection and GTA V because of how familiar I was with both of those games already.

So, when I got my Nintendo Switch, I was pretty thrilled to find out that the Switch has a huge library of classic and sometimes forgotten games from previous generations. And for the first eight or so months that I had a Nintendo Switch, these games were what helped me ease back into enjoying gaming. Games like Katamari Damacy Reroll, Final Fantasy IX/VII, Doom, and the droves of retro game compilations that are available on the Switch were just what I needed to help engage with gaming again and helped me feel comfortable enough with gaming again to want to check out other newer games on the Switch and, eventually, my PC and PS5.

And these re-releases aren’t just retro games from the 7th generation and earlier. You can play games like Bulletstorm, Bioshock and Skyrim on your Switch and take advantage of portable mode.

Oh, and there’s also a literal treasure trove of Wii U games that barely anyone got to play that have been moved over to the Switch and made available for a whole new set of players. While it is pretty weak that these re-releases usually go for full retail, there’s no denying the quality of these releases and the fact that they’re worth every penny. 

Nintendo Switch Online’s NES and SNES games

Photo by Anurag Sharma on Pexels.com

Okay, so this last one is a bit of a point of contention amongst Switch owners. For those not in the know, paying $20 a year to subscribe to Nintendo’s online service not only allows you to play your games online, but also grants you access to a library of just under 90 classic Nintendo and Super Nintendo games for you to play at no extra fee. These games include a number of titles for Nintendo’s classic IP’s from each generation, as well as some third party releases from companies that didn’t want to repackage their games themselves to be sold on the eShop separately. On top of that, you also get basic netplay functionality for these games, which allows you to play them with a friend over the internet, and you get some basic emulator functionality such as savestates, rewinding, and the ability to add scanlines to your game.

While some people are unhappy with this service, and how it has basically replaced Nintendo’s Virtual Console on the Switch, I’m actually pretty happy with the service in it’s current state. Much like a number of other fans, while I’d love to see Nintendo do a better job of adding games to NSO, or even other consoles like the Gameboy line of consoles or the N64, I also tend to view this collection of games more as icing on the cake of having a Switch, than I do the cake itself.

It’s a very valid complaint that Nintendo isn’t doing enough here, but I just feel like I could always pick up an RG350 or my modded PSP if I really wanted to play more retro games on a handheld. Plus, at $20 a year, playing the NES and SNES games available here is still much cheaper than it would be to pick up all of these titles on their own, and you get the added benefit of it being on a digital library that you can take anywhere with little fuss.

Again, I recognize that this isn’t perfect, but being able to play Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the go is a lot of fun and I personally found the price point needed to do this to be a great value. Also, it has Kirby’s Dream Course, so of course I’m going to love NSO.

Closing

So there you have it, 5 reasons why the Nintendo Switch is my favorite console of all time, as well as why I think it’s a great device to begin with. If I could sum this entire video up in a few words, I’d basically say that the Nintendo Switch does a great job of putting convenience in the hands of its users. It’s not perfect and there are a few glaring ways Nintendo could make this console even more convenient, but the ability to play games that span just about every generation of gaming on it, coupled with the fact that you can use a wide variety of controllers and take this thing on the go with you makes the Nintendo Switch a really unique piece of hardware. Simply put, there’s something for everyone on the Nintendo Switch.

Except for Earthbound. And Netflix.


If you enjoyed this post and want more game-themed goodness, feel free to check out some of our other posts, or consider subscribing to our blog for updates on future posts and videos!

Subscribe to read more posts like these!

Retro Review: Felix the Cat (NES) – Does It Hold Up?

What happens when you take a 1920’s cartoon character, revive him in the 50’s, and then give him a direct to video movie and video game in the 90s? Well, you get Felix the Cat for the NES. Originally released in 1992 and developed by Hudson soft, Felix The Cat is an action platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Gameboy that has the titular feline travelling through several worlds on a mission to save his girlfriend Kitty from an evil professor.

I was raised on a pretty steady diet of classic cartoons as a kid, which included a few of Felix’s silent shorts from the early days of cinema. In fact, Felix the Cat has always been one of my favorite animated characters for that reason, as I have a lot of nostalgia for those old shorts, and because of the huge impact that his character and character design has had over the years. And because of that, I had a blast playing through the game for this review. While this is actually my first time playing the NES release of the game, I actually grew up with a bit of an admiration for the port I owned on the original Gameboy. I had picked up the Gameboy version of this title back when I was 5 or 6 and visiting my cousins in the Philippines. It came on one of those bootleg multi-carts you can pick up that usually had a few dozen Gameboy ROMs on it. Of the handful of those multi-carts I had as a kid, the one that had Felix The Cat was always my favorite, in part due it having this game.

But… Does it hold up almost 30 years after its release? While one would assume that this game is little more than licensed garbage, given the NES’s proclivity for such releases, I’m proud to report that this actually isn’t the case here. Felix The Cat is, somewhat shockingly, a really solid game with fluid and fast paced action, colorful graphics, and a fairly good chiptune soundtrack. As for whether or not it’s actively worth checking out these days… Well, I guess you’ll just have to stick around and find out.

Gameplay

Felix the Cat (NES)

The NES version of Felix the Cat takes place across 9 different worlds, with each of them having a unique theme to them, such as tropical, western, or Egyptian. However, the objective for each level doesn’t change, as you’ll always be tasked with traversing the stage and trying to reach the goal. While this is all par for the course, especially on the NES, that’s not to say that Felix the Cat doesn’t try to offer a few subversions to the gameplay. The game features a number of power ups that, when acquired via a heart, transform Felix into one of several different forms. What’s great about this is that these power ups stack on top of each other, allowing players to take extra hits with a penalty of losing your powerup and reverting into the previously powered up form that you had. It works a lot like taking damage with powerups in later 2D Mario games and, as one can only assume that this game was created with younger players in mind, makes for a fairly forgiving and approachable mechanic. 

Felix the Cat’s power ups also help complicate the gameplay by way of offering specific advantages to using each specific form. For example, while Felix’s default attack of punching enemies with a boxing glove that’s attached to an extending arm offers the least range of any attack in the game, it can also technically clip through certain objects and damage enemies from behind barriers. On the other hand, Felix’s tank powerup offers increased damage and range, but at the cost of firing at an arc which makes it more difficult to hit enemies at close range. Likewise, Felix also has a powerup that fires stars in every direction and is great for defense play, but suffers from having as much range as the boxing glove. It’s a pretty nice touch and invites players to try and replay the game while relying on different power ups. In fact, I actually want to try and beat the game using nothing but Felix’s boxing glove — a decision that is sure to make for a significantly harder game. 

And, as if that weren’t enough, power ups also come with a time limit that can be extended by finding bottles of milk that are hidden throughout the game. Although, I really didn’t even notice this mechanic until well into my playthrough as it’s actually pretty hard to run out of time with your powerups. You’re simply more likely to beat the stage before you transform into a weaker state, or take some damage and lose your powerup anyway. It’s still a fairly nice touch though, even though it comes across as arbitrary in implementation. 

In terms of performance and how the game itself plays, Felix the Cat is a buttery smooth beast of a game. Unlike some other later NES games, like Kirby’s Adventure for instance, the game suffers from little to no slowdown or sprite flicker. It’s actually a really well optimized game that runs incredibly well. Overall, movement feels pretty quick and snappy, and the game’s hit detection is also solid. I will say that things can occasionally feel a little more slippery than I’d like it to, but that slippery movement is something that can easily be adapted to after a few minutes in the game.

Honestly, the only major complaint I have with the gameplay is what can best be described as some slight screen crunch. I don’t know if this is due to the game being co-developed for the original Gameboy or not, but I can’t help but feel like Felix the Cat needs a wider field of view. While not as bad as stuff like the Game Gear Sonic the Hedgehog games, there are several moments where its easy to take damage, either by jumping into an enemy you didn’t know was above you, or by walking into a projectile that was fired by an enemy that was offscreen. It’s not the biggest deal, by any stretch of the word but it’s a shame nonetheless, as those moments feel pretty unfair. Granted, this issue doesn’t actually make the game that much harder though, as power ups are relatively plentiful and it’s also pretty easy to stock up on lives.

In fact, Felix the Cat isn’t even that hard of a game, probably due to needing to appeal to a younger demographic. The game is a pretty cozy adventure, with relatively short and sweet levels, plenty of opportunities to power up your character, and boss battles that can be steamrolled relatively quickly if you’re powered up. There is a difficulty curve in the game, for sure, but it’s a relatively gradual curve that does a fairly good job of holding the players hand and should allow for newcomers to platforms of all ages to get at least a decent amount into the game, if not beat the game before long. I’m pretty okay with this game’s relatively low difficulty though, as I believe that difficulty is usually hardly indicative of how enjoyable a game is. However, if you pick this game up looking for a challenge, I’d recommend trying to do a playthrough without any power ups or something along those lines to artificially raise the difficulty.

Graphics

For an NES title, Felix the Cat looks solid. The worlds are vibrant and colorful, sprites are solid and well animated, and things are generally easy to decipher and interpret. For an NES game, Felix the Cat manages to squeeze a lot of detail and personality out of the consoles limited color palettes. While it is a little annoying that Felix’s powerups stick to a weird and kinda nauseating salmon and lime color scheme, it’s also not the worst thing I’ve ever seen and is due to a relatively understandable limitation of the hardware.

One of the little details that I happen to think is a pretty nice touch is the fact that, at several points in each level, you can see clouds on screen that are in the shape of Kitty calling for Felix’s help. Little details like this are absolutely delightful to see and do wonders at helping shape this games atmosphere.

Now I could be wrong in saying this, so take this with a grain of salt, but I do have to circle back on the games screen crunch issue. Things just feel a bit too cramped on screen for my liking and like they should be a bit more zoomed out to help players see more of the action. As I mentioned earlier, this is hardly a game breaking issue, but it’s still a bit weird to see be a problem to begin with, especially since the game’s score and lives information is displayed on a card that takes up a lot more of the bottom of the screen than it needs to. My only guess for why this is the case to begin with is that the game needed to run at a lower resolution in order to play smoothly, but I also don’t know if that’s true or not, or whether simply designing the levels differently could have circumvented this issue. At any rate, it’s kinda a shame that this is the case as the game is a delightful looking NES title that would have benefited from being able to see as much of the levels as possible at any given moment.

Music

Felix the Cat also happens to have a pretty great soundtrack for a licensed NES title. None of the songs sound all too similar to each other and are all pretty catchy and enjoyable on their own merits. Some songs are better than others, sure, but I also certainly wouldn’t call any of them duds either. They all have at least one segment to them that gets stuck in my head whenever I play the game and honestly sound really good for the NES. There’s also a really nice detail in this game where the music’s instrumentation starts to simplify itself as you approach the exit of each stage. It’s actually pretty awesome. Besides that, there really isn’t much else to say about the music here. It’s simply solid.

Closing

So does Felix the Cat hold up? Absolutely! As I mentioned earlier in this review, it’s easy to ignore licensed NES titles as there are a lot of them out there that are little more than shovel ware. But that honestly couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to this game. Felix the Cat has great gameplay, a ton of personality, and makes good use of the NES’s hardware. These qualities, coupled with the relative surprise of it being a good licensed title, means that Felix the Cat absolutely holds up. Expectations can sometimes be weird like that, as having lower expectations for a product can result in you being pleasantly surprised by it.

In terms of pure game quality, I’d likely say that Felix the Cat is a competently made and fairly worthwhile title. However, the inherent value and enjoyment one can get out of the game is raised somewhat due to the fact that people are less likely to want to seek it out to begin with, when compared to trying or replaying more common and well beloved titles like Ducktails. It is worth mentioning though that while I was pleasantly surprised by this game, that extra enjoyment I got out of playing this over something else wasn’t explicitly from the gameplay itself, but rather how I didn’t expect this title to be as good as I had remembered it being from back in my childhood.

Pound for pound, Felix the Cat is a great game and is worth adding to any NES collection or backlog for fans of the platforming genre. It’s a bit of a pricey cart though, so you may be better off emulating this one or using a flashcart if you plan on playing on original hardware. 


If you enjoyed this post and want more game-themed goodness, feel free to check out some of our other posts, or consider subscribing to our blog for updates on future posts and videos!

Subscribe to read more posts like these!

Retro Review: Bonk’s Adventure (Turbographx-16) – Does It Hold Up?

Bonk’s Adventure is a 2D platformer from 1989 that was released for the PC Engine in Japan, which is better known in the US as the Turbographx-16. Developed by Red Company and Atlus, the game and its main character Bonk were originally envisioned as a mascot for NEC, the makers of the Turbographx. In fact, back in Japan, Bonk was even punnily named PC-Genjin as a means to more closely brand him with the PC Engine.

Similar to what Sega would also try to accomplish with Sonic the Hedgehog, Bonk’s Adventure was designed to showcase the power of the Turbographx-16 and to put Nintendo, and it’s aging NES hardware, to shame in the process. It also tried to position Bonk as a much cooler character that could drive circles around Nintendo and it’s mascot Mario, who seemingly had little bite when compared to NEC’s Prehistoric Caveman. And, at the time, critics seemed to love him! Entertainment Weekly even went as far as to state that Bonk’s Adventure was the third best game available in 1991, placing the game just behind Sonic the Hedgehog and Super R-Type, but above games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros 2, and Metroid. 

What followed is a long line of sequels, ports and spin-offs for the game, making Bonk a fairly recognizable character amongst retro enthusiasts, but also a fairly obscure one for those not as interested in playing older games. While I was familiar with the character of Bonk due to seeing several of his games available on the Wii Virtual Console as a kid, I actually would classify myself as falling into the latter of the two aforementioned categories. I always kinda remembered Bonk as being a character that was sorta there, and didn’t know that he was intended to be the TurboGraphx mascot until fairly recently. In fact, Bonk’s Adventure was actually the first game review I ever made almost exactly a year ago, before I ended up shelving the finished video to focus on my job. But I never stopped thinking about the character and have always wanted to give his franchise a second shot. After all, Bonk was a fairly well known character back in the day, despite being on a console that not many Americans owned. His relative obscurity got me wondering whether or not that has anything to do with the quality of his games themselves or if he just didn’t get lucky enough to strike the American zeitgeist in the way that he needed to. 

Gameplay

Bonk’s Adventure (Tubrographx-16)

When I try to figure out whether or not a game holds up, I like to think that I’m trying to figure out whether or not the game is any good, as well as whether or not it does anything unique that makes it stand out from other titles from the era. And, in that regard, I like to think that Bonk’s Adventure performs pretty well. The game centers around Bonk as he quests to rescue Princess Za from the evil King Drool. His journey takes him through two dozen or so stages that are separated into several levels that has him doing everything from running, jumping on clouds, climbing waterfalls and swimming while also using his abnormally sized cranium to defeat enemies. 

His head is his primary means of attack in this game and can be used to headbutt opponents, attack from beneath, spin into them, or to dive into them outright. And honestly, that’s all pretty awesome; each of these attacks have a time and a place to shine and do a great job of keeping the game, and it’s relatively barebones premise, from growing stale. I especially like Bonk’s dive attack as it reminds me of that one Ralph wiggum meme from The Simpsons. 

But this game also has a lot more to it than beating the Simpsons to divebombs. Bonk can transform into angrier, more powerful versions of himself by eating meat that’s hidden throughout levels and in enemies. This allows him to transform into one of two powered up states that give him the ability to stun enemies, and grant him temporary invincibility, respectively.

He also comes armed with three hearts that allow him to take damage from enemies before dying, can take a free hit when he’s powered up, and can refill his health by eating food he finds On top of that, Bonk’s Adventure has a very forgiving lives system, as dying doesn’t send Bonk back to the beginning of the stage or a checkpoint, but rather leads to him respawning in the exact spot he perished in. And it also has unlimited continues!

So, yeah, he’s got a lot going for him and honestly, it makes the game an utter delight to play. Thinking contextually, it’s easy to see why critics were so enamored with the character back in the day as, even though it would eventually get a very belated NES port, Bonk’s Adventure feels like an experience that’s a cut above what Nintendo players could get on their console of choice in 1990. Obvious graphical leap aside, the game features more on screen action than your typical NES game, less slow down and flicker than you’d expect off an 8bit CPU, and more varied gameplay than what you may find on similar platformers for the aging NES.


That’s not to say that the game is perfect though, as it does have a few problems. For starters, I think that the game has a bit of a noticeable difficulty curve that creeps in around the third or fourth level. It’s not the worst, by any stretch of the word, but it will probably catch newer players off guard and be a little discouraging to younger or more casual players.The game also features several enemy types with hitboxes that feel a little unfair, such as crocodiles that can attack you from further away than you’d think they can, or smaller insect based enemies that can be a little tricky to hit. However, it is worth mentioning that you can counter these enemies with the right attacks or avoid them outright, as combat isn’t required to progress in this game. The only time you need to fight enemies in Bonk’s Adventure is during boss battles, which are relatively self explanatory pattern recognition challenges. They can sometimes get a little hectic, but thanks to the game’s forgiving lives system can usually be dispatched with little to no difficulty if you want to use up your lives steamrolling your enemy. This strategy actually doesn’t work at the end of the game though, as there’s a boss rush before the final boss that can be really difficult to get through with only a few lives. Getting through this boss rush leads to yet another boss, who has all of the other bosses attacks, followed by another final boss fight to round out the game. This sudden flurry of boss battles comes out of nowhere and honestly is extremely frustrating due to it needing to be completed on a single continue. While Bonk’s Adventure’s difficulty curve is noticeable up to this point, this sudden flurry of boss battles does little more than to turn what was otherwise a pretty enjoyable experience into an extremely tedious one. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for save states, I would’ve put this game away a long time ago. I’ve always enjoyed a slight challenge in video games but also consider myself more of a laid back player. With this in mind, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this game suddenly ratcheting up the difficulty like this, but do feel as though it’s somewhat flawed game design due to how out of left field it is. In the case of other “difficult” video games, that difficulty is usually sewn into the fiber of the game itself. The mechanics and “difficulty” of franchises like the NES Castlevania and Megaman games are apparent from the opening minutes of the game, unlike in Bonk’s Adventure where the game’s design philosophy seemingly changes at the last minute. 

Visuals

While the Turbographx-16 was heavily marketed as the first 16 bit console in the US, that isn’t necessarily true. The Turbographx was 16 bit in the sense that it had a 16-bit video color encoder and display controller, but it’s CPU was actually 8-bit and, as a result of it, I’ve always considered it more of a stop gap between something like the NES and Genesis in terms of performance. What this means for Bonk’s Adventure is that, while it looks 16 bit and features more colors and better performance than anything you’d see on the NES, the games for the system itself probably played a bit closer to hardware for the NES or Master System than it did it’s contemporaries. That’s not to say that the system was weak or anything, it’s just that it isn’t quite as 16-bit as it’s name and marketing would have you believe. But that doesn’t actually matter though, as the console had a ton of great looking and fun games for it.

Plus this game is frickin’ gorgeous. It’s got a great/cartoony art-style and, as far as showcases for the next generation of gaming go, I actually think that the large, detailed sprites found in Bonk’s Adventure accomplish this spectacularly. The game’s art-style is playful and full of attitude, making use of the Turbographx hardware to the best of its ability. It kinda reminds me of the manga Dr. Slump for some reason, if I’m being honest. At any rate, the characters are all quite emotive and endearing in their design, and the world itself is colorful and makes use of the console’s ability to display more colors than its 8-bit competition. In fact, if you compare this game to Bonk’s Adventure on the NES, you can clearly see how much of an edge this version has over it’s demake. The Turbographx version simply has some great sprite work and character design going for it. And it even has some parallax scrolling too, for what it’s worth. It’s kinda hard to see unless you’re looking for it though, as the Turbographx only has one background layer available on it, and it’s only kinda used for some elements here and there. I will say that this game does have some great world building though, as in later levels of the game, you can actually notice a castle off in the distance and, sure enough, we actually get to explore that castle later in the game. 

Music

Musically, Bonk’s Adventure gets the job done, and not much else. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing or that I didn’t enjoy the musical offerings that this game had to offer though; I just also can’t seem to remember much of this games music, outside of the first level’s theme, off the top of my head. Again, that doesn’t mean the music is bad or anything. I just didn’t find it particularly noteworthy.

What I will say, though, is that the game showcases the Turbographx 16’s advantages over the NES in terms of the consoles sound capabilities. While nowhere near as robust as it’s later competition like the SNES or Genesis, The Turbographx does feature more sound channels and higher quality audio than what you’d find on 8-bit consoles. While that’s kinda a no brainer, it does make me wonder how impressed consumers would’ve been by this improved audio (as well as the consoles graphics) back in the late 80s. While the music leans more towards 8-bit chiptune music than the heavier and more sample based music of later 16 bit consoles,  this had to have been impressive at the time, and that it seemed like the next logical step forward for video game hardware.

Closing

So does Bonk’s Adventure hold up? Yes and no. While I do think that Bonk’s Adventure is a good game that has aged particularly well and has a lot going for it, I also don’t know if I’d go as far as to classify it as a must play platformer. It does a lot right as a game, but I also feel like it doesn’t do a superb enough job to make it stand out against other titles in the genre. That’s not to say that I think you won’t enjoy Bonk if you happen to give it a shot; I just think that there are other, better games out there for you to seek out. While I love the games art style and also had a blast using Bonk’s multiple methods of attack to fight off enemies, I just don’t think that there was enough going on for me with this games level design and music to really consider this game as noteworthy. But, one must also keep in mind the context of when this game came out. As one of the earlier 16 bit platformers on the market, there’s no denying how stunning this game had to have looked when put up against stuff like Mario 3. It’s just a shame that the game itself didn’t do much more than look and sound prettier than the competition. If you find yourself hankering for a good platformer and want to give Mario and Sonic a rest though, Bonk’s Adventure is a pretty fun game, just one that is best admired with lowered expectations and, if you plan to beat it and aren’t the best at platformers, access to save states.


If you enjoyed this post and want more game-themed goodness, feel free to check out some of our other posts, or consider subscribing to our blog for updates on future posts and videos!

Subscribe to read more posts like these!

Retro Review: Nights into Dreams (Sega Saturn/PC) – Does It Hold Up?

Originally released for the Sega Saturn in 1996, Nights Into Dreams is an arcadey action game developed by Sonic Team in a bid to bring high quality 3-D action to the Sega Saturn. It follows a character named Nights, who teams up with two children as they fight the evil Wizeman, who is trying to destroy the dream world of Nightopia and, in turn, the real world that the children come from. 

While I didn’t play this game growing up, Nights Into Dreams (often referred to as simply Nights) was one of the few Sega Saturn games that was on my radar as a kid. When I was 5 or 6, I remember leafing through an older Archie digest while I was visiting my cousins in the Philippines. On the back of the digest was an ad for a comic based off of the game and I’ve found myself curious and transfixed with the character ever since. I don’t know what it is about the character that did it for me, but something about Night’s Jesterly design struck a chord with me and I spent most of my childhood wanting to play the game. I don’t even think I fully understood what a Sega Saturn was at the time, but I knew I had to play Nights on one. Unfortunately though, I never did.

In 2007, Nights was ported onto the Playstation 2 as a Japanese exclusive release by Sega. And in 2012, that version was then remastered in HD for the Xbox 360, the PS3, and PC. The Xbox 360 version was the way I played this game for the first time, and I remember feeling confused and kinda overstimulated by the gameplay before growing to enjoy the game for it’s fluidity, and addictiveness.
Over the years, Nights has garnered a reputation of being a bit of a cult classic. Fans of the game love the title for it’s colorful and psychedelic graphics, it’s incredible soundtrack, and it’s extremely fun and fast paced gameplay. And Sega knows how much we love Nights. The game and the it’s main character have been referenced and featured in everything from the Sega All-Stars games to Sonic Adventure, and the game even received a sequel for the Nintendo Wii back in the mid 2000’s.

For this review, I’m going to be playing the game over on Steam. I’m also going to be playing this game’s remastered mode for today’s review as it includes a few quality of life improvements that I feel will improve my experience with the game. It is worth mentioning that the original Saturn experience is preserved here though, in case you guys are looking for something a little more authentic. While I don’t personally own a Sega Saturn, I do really want one, and I anticipate picking this game up when I get one, along with it’s analog controller that was basically made for this game.

Gameplay

Nights into Dreams (Steam)

The central gameplay of Nights Into Dreams is pretty straight forward. Each level starts with one of the child characters being attacked by monsters that rob them of these things called Ideyas and place them in a cage. After this happens, you’ll need to navigate them over to a shrine of sorts to start playing as Nights and to retrieve them for the kids. Ideya’s are kind of an interesting concept as they represent the characters emotions and sense of hope, intelligence, wisdom and purity. Because the game takes place in a dream world and the opponents you face in this game are nightmares, the entire game is loaded with awesome surrealist touches like this that give the game a strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia, as well as the theme of personal growth and self-actualization.They also reflect the influence that psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had on the development of this game and it’s world. It is worth noting though that most of these details and lore aren’t an actual part of the game.  I honestly can’t tell if I’m looking into things too deeply here or if my own sense of nostalgia for the game, or this generation of gaming in general is clouding my judgement here, but the game feels incredibly wholesome and uplifting. Again, that could just be me reminiscing about my childhood and holding this game up on a pedestal because of its impact on me as a kid, but I seriously have so much affection for this game. 

Anyway, once you actually start playing as Nights, you’re tasked with flying around and picking up these blue orbs while you fly through rings and avoid the few monsters that are on each level. While you can technically attack and use them to help you switch directions and fly in loops, combat isn’t really this games focus, which is probably for the better. The cages keeping the kids Ideya’s away from them require 20 blue orbs in order to be broken and free Ideya. From there, it’s as simple as flying back to the shrine that you started at in order to start the next section of the level and eventually take on a boss. If you take too long to complete a part of the stage and run out of time, Nights is suddenly transformed back into one of the child characters, who then has to run back to the shrine and re-transform into Nights. There’s also this clock that’ll spawn and chase you around. Letting it catch you wakes your character up, which means that they’ll never reacquire their Ideyas and that well, you lose and have to restart the level. 

You can control the direction Nights flies in with the analog stick and can also attack or perform a boost by hitting the A or X button, depending on whether you’re using an Xbox or Playstation controller to play this remaster. It’s also worth mentioning that you do have a meter for your boost, which needs to be refilled by flying through rings. The controls themselves feel pretty good; things are as responsive as they need to be and, while I do think the analog controls are a bit too sensitive for my liking, I never feel totally out of control of my character. Plus, this could just be due to this game being the first Saturn game to support analog control and have nothing to do with the remaster itself. Either way, it’s pretty easy to get used to and is, in no way, that bad, especially with how simple the gameplay itself is.

As far as difficulty goes, the game is pretty easy to beat and can be done in just an hour or so due to it only having 7 levels. But even though the game is relatively short and easy, it’s also extremely addictive. This is due to the games extremely fluid controls, as well as the game having a ranking system not too dissimilar from the one in, say, Sonic Adventure 2. Because of it, you’ll find yourself coming back to this game over and over again in order to try and get a higher rank on each of it’s levels, which is great because these levels are a blast to play through and explore. Plus, in order to unlock the games final two levels, you’ll actually need to get a C rank on each character’s three main stages, which will also likely result in newer players needing to play through each level one or two more times in order to learn the optimaI routes to use. I wouldn’t call this an issue though as the levels themselves are fairly short and all stand out from each other.

Each level revolves around a different theme and also features a different level gimmick that keep things fresh. The gimmicks range from controlling Nights from behind, sorta like you’re flying an Arwing in Star Fox, to controlling her from above, swimming through an underwater cave, or doing something else like sledding. These gimmicks don’t do anything to change up the actual objective of the level, but provide a brief respite from the game’s main 2.5d gameplay.

Despite being designed as a showcase for the Saturn’s 3D graphics prowess, most of the game actually plays in 2D. While there are 3D sections in the game, the majority of this title features dreamy and psychedelic level design that’s clearly intended to be played from a side scrolling perspective and honestly, the game’s a lot better for it, as the 3D sections aren’t the best. They aren’t terrible by any stretch of the word, but have to admit that they do feel a little cumbersome and have aged a little poorly in the controls department. The 2D gameplay on the other hand has aged much better and actually feels really fresh, especially when stacked up against a lot of early 3D titles from the era.

These sections fill me with such a deep sense of whimsy; while I wouldn’t call these levels the easiest to navigate in terms of how intuitive their layouts are, there’s no denying how fun these level designs are to fly through. And I think this is in part due to the actual implementation of the levels themselves; due to the games collectathon nature, the levels are extremely linear and operate more like tracks for you to learn and time trial through.
While I am playing this game’s HD remaster, the original release of Nights earned a lot of praise for its smooth framerate and heaps of animation. And thankfully, both of these qualities have made it into the game’s modern port and hold up really well today, much like the next thing I’d like to talk about, this games soundtrack.

Music

It’s almost a running gag at this point that Sonic games have a good soundtrack but despite that, I’d still like to extend that joke to include other Sonic Team titles like Nights. Because wow. This game’s soundtrack is incredible. If I had to compare it to any other Sonic soundtrack in terms of it’s sheer quality, I’d honestly put it up there with something like Sonic CD for how heart-poundingly fun and playful it is. I don’t know what genre I’d describe the Nights soundtrack as, other than dance or something, but it’s extremely catchy and full of 90’s synths and pulsing beats. The first time I played this game, I remember becoming obsessed with the soundtrack and, as dorky as it probably sounds, remember ripping it onto my iPod Touch to listen to while I’d go running in my high school gym class. It’s really better off heard than it is described.

Visuals

Visually, Nights Into Dreams looks great. Despite being originally released on the Sega Saturn, which has a bit of an honestly unwarranted reputation of being a joke when it came to 3D games, Nights looked really good for a game released in 1996. Similarly, the HD remaster also looks pretty great on a modern display. I played through the game in 1440p on a large monitor, and while I could definitely see muddily upscale HUD textures and sprites in the game, especially when they’re juxtaposed against higher quality polygonal assets, I wasn’t really bothered by them. Plus this was fairly par for the course on remasters, especially remasters from nearly ten years ago, and I actually kinda like how it looks on a thematic level. Because Nights revolves around dreams and does a great job of conjuring warm nostalgic feelings for me, the upscaled textures and, admittedly pretty dated 90s 3D graphics kinda enhance the games psychedelic and otherworldly quality. It’s kinda similar to Squares upscale jobs on their Final Fantasy remasters, in that way. While I love stuff like the Mogari Mod for Final Fantasy IX, which takes the games backgrounds and AI upscales them to perfection, there’s also a lot of charm in at least kinda preserving the way the game looked back in the day. Plus, in the case of something like Nights, it’s nowhere near as jarring as it is on the Final Fantasy rereleases.

Closing

So does Nights into Dreams hold up? Um… yeah! While the game certainly isn’t perfect and does feature sensitive analog control and is a little on the short side, I kinda think that those qualities are part of the games nostalgic charm. And even if you do find these qualities more aggravating than you do endearing, the games strong presentation and incredible soundtrack are sure to help tide things over for you. Nights is a game best played frequently in short bursts, and thanks to how readily available and affordable this remaster is, there’s honestly no better time to buy it than the present. It’s one of my go-to games for when I have 10-15 minutes to kill and have already done all my tasks in Animal Crossing or challenges in Tetris 99 for the day. It’s just a great game to veg out and play somewhat vacantly. I actually had some technical difficulties recording for this video that forced me to play through this game almost three times, and I honestly didn’t get bored doing so. Nights Into Dreams can be picked up on Steam for just $7.99 and can easily run on just about any modern computer, so you owe it to yourself to pick this gem of a game up if you’re ever looking for a fun 90s adventure. 

Retro Review: Super Back to the Future II (Super Famicom/SNES) – Is It Good?


Is Super Back to the Future II the best Back to the Future Game?

Super Back to the Future II is a Super Famicom game that never made it overseas from Japan. Originally released in July 1993, the game retells the story of the second Back to the Future movie in the format of a platformer that’s loaded from top to bottom in colorful chibi graphics.

Now I’ve always been a huge Back to the Future fan, I would watch these movies religiously growing up and have done everything from dress up as Marty McFly for Halloween, to pick up the official novelisation for the second movie, and photoshop my best friend and I into a frame from the third movie, so vividly remember how shocked I was to find out that this game existed. In fact, the original Japanese rom for this game was one of the first things I had ever emulated when I had gotten my first laptop in middle school. I was so excited I was to play this game back then and I couldn’t care less about how it was in Japanese. After all, it was Back to the Future II! I know the trilogy by heart and could practically recite the thing from memory anyway!

But while I remember being excited about playing the game for the first time back in middle school, I actually don’t remember playing the game itself. In fact, the only other thing I know about this game is that I have a reproduction cart for it’s fan made English translationslation.

So does Super Back to the Future II hold up? While a quick scan through YouTube and the internet would have you believe that it’s a fine game that may even be a bit of a hidden gem, I honestly had a rough experience with this one. Now this could be because of the nostalgia and regard I have for the movies themselves placing unfair expectations on this game for me, or it could just be due to the fact that I don’t think the game is particularly well designed. At any rate, it is really interesting though, so let’s dive into things.

Gameplay

Super Back to the Future II

Super Back to the Future II was developed by Daft Co Ltd and spans 20 stages, across 6 levels, including boss fights. The game revolves around Marty McFly zipping through stages and avoiding hazards while riding the Mattel Hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II.  In between levels, you’re treated to cutscenes that provide a sparknotes glimpse into the plot of the movie. While they’re simple in execution, and leave out a lot of the story from the movie itself, there’s no denying that watching them during my playthrough brought a smile to my face and made me wanna rewatch the trilogy itself. I mean, look at these things; they’re adorable.

For the most part, the level design is relatively uninspired, if not somewhat problematic. It typically switches back and forth between flat or inclined terrain where Marty can pick up some speed on his hoverboard and platforming segments where he’ll need to carefully navigate through. In a lot of ways, the game is actually designed like the classic Sonic games, giving the player areas where he can pick up a lot of speed and zip through obstacles before being forced to slow down and play more cautiously. These open areas even include coins, which are used as currency to buy health and other temporary power ups. While I love some of these open areas and think that zipping around them can be fun, there are a few too many moments where jumping off of a ramp or platform will lead to Marty spending an extremely long time spiraling through the air with nothing to do. This comes in stark contrast to the games more platform heavy sections, which are almost too full of platforms and obstacles to navigate past. These platform challenges also happen to stick out like a sore thumb and ruin any immersion you may have in this game. For example in level 3, section 1, there’s a long shaft that you’re tasked with climbing up. However, instead of disguising this platforming challenge as something that could potentially be a part of the world that the level takes place in, it’s literally just a bunch of platforms that you need to climb. The level doesn’t even designate which of the platforms you’re about to step onto are moving ones, meaning that you’ll need to trial and error your way through the section the first few times you play the game until you’ve memorized the layout. Moments like this are relatively dull, as there’s no inherent challenge here, outside of a few enemies that can fall on top of you. While I’m glad that there isn’t a bottomless pit at the bottom of the shaft, that’s also a bit of an issue in itself as there is literally no penalty for failing this section, other than needing to restart it. Again, I actually like that there isn’t an instant death at the bottom of this segment, but I can’t help but feel like the lack of any real hazard here makes this section, at best, pointless. That actually extends to several other corridors in levels that are similarly tedious. I understand the fact that you need platforming challenges in a platformer, but I can’t help but feel like these segments feel extremely inorganic and take me out of the colorful and playful world that the game has done such a great job of constructing. And this isn’t the only time that this happens in the game, there are multiple instances where very “gamey” obstacles are presented that make little to no sense for existing in the first place. While one does need to suspend their disbelief when they’re playing a video game, seeing sharp, mega man esque spikes in the middle of a cemetery or casino is still pretty jarring, especially when they’re thrown all over the place and slow the game down to a crawl. It’s actually really jarring too, because so much of this game seems like it’s trying to encourage me to try and clear the stages as fast as I possibly can, while also forcing me to constantly stop and wait for platforms or hazards to move. I guess it’s a bit like Marble Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog in that regard.

Visuals

One thing I do need to compliment here is the game’s art style though, as it’s the best thing on display here by far. Everything is portrayed with a really likeable and cute edge; even when you’re facing up against drunks and gang members in the Alternate 1985 stage, it’s kinda hard not to find their designs charming. The games sprites are all well detailed and appropriately playful — you really wouldn’t expect 16-bit kawaii art to fit Back to the Future as well as it does, but it really works here. The only problem I have with this games graphics is that, by featuring larger and more detailed sprites than what you may find in your typical platformer, the game runs into the sort of screen crunch issues you might find in stuff like the Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Game Gear. There’s no denying that this game is pretty to look at, but I can’t help but feel like the sprite sizes in this game hinder the gameplay at the same time. The game’s backgrounds are also well designed, though they don’t seem to have much, or any, parallax scrolling in them. It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the word, as they’re incredibly detailed for the Super Famicom, but they definitely feel a little flat.

Music

As for the games’ sound… it’s awesome. Daft Co managed to snag the rights to the Back to the Future theme and it’s two variations in the games’ soundtrack are amazing. I’m particularly fond of the second arrangement for the games second level, even if it’s on the short side. There’s something about the playful whistle sound effects in it that just gets me, you gotta hear this.

The games original music also isn’t that bad, and neither are it’s sound effects. At the very least, everything lines up pretty well with the games visual presentation, which means that the weaker tracks in the soundtrack’s biggest offense is that they just aren’t as catchy as the Back to the Future theme.

But, once we get the games music and graphics out of the way, there’s only one thing left to talk about — the gameplay. And unfortunately, that’s where this game loses me. I’ve already mentioned that the level design and layouts are a bit on the uninspired side, and while I can overlook that for a lot of games, I just wasn’t able to do that here. And I couldn’t do that because of two very important things in the game, it’s controls and it’s performance.

Gripes

The controls are fairly standard. You can control Marty by hitting left and right on your D-Pad, and you can get him to jump and dash with the Y/A and B buttons respectively. While it’s a little weird having to jump with the Y/A buttons at first, given this is a Super Famicom game and that 16-bit games usually mapped that to the B button, that’s hardly the start of it, and is something that you can get used to pretty easily. The main problem with the controls is how Marty himself handles. While moving from left to right is controlled with the D-Pad, I never feel that confident that Marty is going to move the way I’m trying to get him to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this games sense of physics and momentum feel off. It kinda feels like my inputs either aren’t being read properly, or as if I were streaming the game over the internet and don’t have a solid connection. The same also applies to the games jumping and, honestly, it’s general performance when there are multiple moving assets on the screen. I mean, there are moments when this game chugs, and it totally pulls me out of the game. 

Take for example this segment where I’m expected to hop from car to car in Future Hill Valley. I see the cars, I know their pattern, but the games controls and framerate tank and make this segment harder than it needs to be. And that shaft I mentioned in Level 3 Section 1, that segment is so monotonous due to how hard it is to get Marty to either start or stop moving on such small platforms. It isn’t helped that you can clip through them, seemingly at random, and that there are enemies on the top of the shaft waiting to drop you all the way to the bottom. 

And it’s a shame too, because I’m convinced there’s a decent enough game behind these issues. The games’ presentation shows that it had so much potential, but I can’t look past those issues because of how it impacts my experience of actually playing through it.

The game itself is seemingly designed for pretty quick and stylish gameplay, again sorta like Sonic. For example, the game really likes to line enemies up in a row so that you can bounce from enemy to enemy, using the inertia of your previous hit to keep moving you forward. In theory, that’s awesome; you can tell that they may have been inspired by Bonk’s Adventure for the PC Engine and how you can similarly string along combos in that game. But again, it’s hard to actually enjoy stuff like that, due to how the games performance issues ramp up the difficulty.

And, if it weren’t for these issues, this game honestly wouldn’t be that hard. While it doesn’t have checkpoints and it does feature gameovers, each level has an easy to remember password, and you can set the game to start with five lives. You also get three hits before you lose a life and you can pick up health in vending machines if you have enough coins. But that unfortunately isn’t enough to offset the games very artificial difficulty problem; if anything, it feels like trying to put a bandaid on a broken arm. If you decide to give this game a shot, I highly recommend playing this game on an emulator that supports overclocking your game for improved performance. I was initially playing this game on OpenEmu from my Macbook and, after switching over to an overclocked Snes9x core on RetroArc, found that the game ran much better. It certainly doesn’t fix this game, as it’s issues extend to the controls and level design as a whole, but it does improve the experience by a noticeable amount.

Closing

So is Super Back to the Future II the best Back to the Future game?

No.

While this may have been the best option gamers had for over 20 years, TellTale’s take on the franchise was a much truer to the film experience and provided fans with the opportunity to go on a new journey through Hill Valley. Super Back to the Future II, on the other hand, is a barebones and undercooked, dare-I-say-raw platformer that does a fine-enough job of recapping the second movie, but fails to actually be worth playing. For what it’s worth though, I don’t hate this game. I actually think it was pretty ambitious and creative for what it did with the Back to the Future property. Like I said earlier, I loved the games large detailed sprites, and I also loved it’s playful and solid soundtrack. The game itself was just a bit too underdesigned and unoptimized for me, which is a shame. This game feels like it was begging to be on different, more optimized hardware. And that makes me wonder whether this game would’ve benefited from something like the SuperFX chip or appearing on something like the 32x or Genesis, what with it having a faster processor than a stock SNES. At any rate, outside of emulation, I can’t really say I’d recommend this one to fans of the series. It may have been the best Back to the Future game we had back in the day, but this game has aged terribly due to it’s performance issues. I am kinda happy that I own a repro of it’s english patch though, I guess. At the very least,it looks nice on my shelf…

Retro Review: The Karate Kid (NES) – Does It Hold Up?


Is Karate Kid for the Nintendo Entertainment System as bad as people say it is?

That’s a question I asked myself as I was re-watching The Karate Kid Part II the other day. For those unaware of this game, it was released on the NES back in 1987 and loosely follows the plot of the first two Karate Kid movies. However it’s greatest claim to fame was that it was featured in one of the earliest episodes of the Angry Video Game Nerd, back when he was known as the Angry Nintendo Nerd. In fact, I think this may have been the first AVGN video I ever saw. I actually grew up playing this game on my Mom’s NES. Back in the mid 90’s, my mom had picked one up on clearance at Woolworths while she was pregnant with me. She used to come home from the hospital she worked, and still works at, and would apparently play the original Super Mario Brothers on it every night. After I was born, she continued to play video games every now and again and one of my earliest memories is actually picking this game up at Kmart with her and my Dad.

In hindsight, it’s kinda nuts that I was even able to buy new, sealed, NES game in a department store in the late 90s. I was born in 1995 and I’m assuming we must have found this game in the clearance bin or something in 1998 or 1999. Anyway, I actually have a lot of fond memories towards this game. I’ve always loved The Karate Kid franchise, and remember having a lot of fun with this as a kid, even though I could almost never beat the third level. I was actually so into this game for some reason that I remember taping one of the few times I got to the fourth level of the game onto a VHS tape to show my mom after she had got home from work that day. I even remember beating the game for the first time and excitedly running over to my parents room to tell them all about it. If I’m not mistaken, this could be the first game I ever beat too.

So yeah, you could say that I have a lot of nostalgia for this game, which is why I was pretty confused by how much some people online seem to dislike this game. While it’s certainly no hidden gem and, while I’m admitting that I’m probably a little biased here, I don’t know if I’d go as far as to call it terrible. I mean, while it was published by LJ, it was actually made by Atlus, so that’s gotta count for something right? How can you hate something that might be a Persona reference?

Jokes aside, I thought now would be a great time to revisit this game, what with the third season of Cobra Kai right around the corner. So without further adieu, I present to you… The Karate Kid for NES. Will this game help me master the martial arts, touch of death style, as it’s cartridge says it will? Let’s find out.

Gameplay

Moments before Daniel’s, erm, climactic battle with Chozon…

The game can best be described as an action platformer that’s split across four different levels and also features several mini-games.  While that sounds short, and it is, I actually am pretty okay with this sort of game length. I get how it had to have been frustrating for gamers who paid full price for this game back in the day, but over 30 years later, the game’s short length helps keep this game from growing too stale for me. 

It’s first level (which is based on the tournament from the first Karate Kid) is actually a series of one on one fights against four other martial artists, culminating in a battle against Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kais. You wouldn’t know that though unless you’ve seen the movie, as the game doesn’t refer to him as Johnny Lawrence and, outside of wearing an all black gi, he looks nothing like the guy. It’s kinda weird that Atlus didn’t bother to give the guy the right hair color but… whatever. I’d also say it’s equally strange that a game that revolves around light platforming and action decides to start off as a one on one fighter, but I honestly don’t mind that decision too much. It helps ease newcomers into the games controls, while also giving them a safe enough arena to test their skills in. As for the controls themselves, they’re perfectly functional. You can move Daniel from left to right as well as jump and duck using the D-Pad, while the the B and A buttons are reserved for punching and kicking, respectively. Daniel can also perform the crane kick and drum punches to do extra damage by performing a punch or kick when he’s standing still, though you can only perform these attacks if you have the appropriate energy to do so, as these attacks are available via pickups you earn on the platforming levels or via the games bonus stages.

Speaking of attacks, punching is borderline useless in this game. While the drum punch attack is more useful than it’s regular counterpart, mostly due to it elongating Daniel’s arms for some reason, a standard punch offers less range than a kick and is harder to land on an opponent. It does become a bit more useful later in the game when you’re fighting opponents on higher ground than you, but I honestly found myself kicking most of my opponents for most of the game. Simply put, the kick has more range than a standard punch and seems to do just as much damage to enemies, so there isn’t really much reason to try and punch to begin with.

After you finish the All Valley Tournament, the game transitions over to covering the plot of The Karate Kid II, turning into an action platformer. Each stage is loosely inspired by a scene from the film. Stage two is based off of Daniel and Kumiko exploring Okinawa and wandering upon Sato’s Dojo, stage three is based off of the storm scene from the end of the film’s second act, and the fourth and final stage is inspired by the festival at Sato’s castle from the end of the movie.

The Karate Kid’s action stages are, seemingly, inspired by none other than Data East’s Kung Fu, which was ironically also inspired by a movie. That game was modelled after Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, and was also initially released as a tie-in with Jackie Chan’s Wheels on Meals.

While that game found you (mostly) traveling from right to left, fighting hordes of martial arts as you climbed a tower, The Karate Kid has you traveling from left to right while fighting hordes of martial artists in Okinawa. But, and this is a big difference, The Karate Kid also has you performing what should be very simple acts of platforming while you do so, while Kung Fu doesn’t. It sounds like a small thing to point out, but the inclusion of platforming in this game, and the fact that failing at any of these tiny, occasionally hard to spot, platforming challenges results in an immediate death, turns what would otherwise be a pretty alright game into a fairly frustrating experience. This isn’t helped by the fact that this game’s collision detection can occasionally crap out, leading to attacks missing for seemingly no reason, or your character clipping into part of the level and being unable to move until you jump. The spotty collision detection can make these platforming segments incredibly frustrating as there are usually enemies on either side of you while you’re trying to clear a hazard, and getting hit by them sends you flying back and possibly into the hazard you were trying to avoid. You can even get stunlocked by multiple enemies, if you manage to get cornered by them, and, on the third stage, you can actually get flung back by a pretty large portion of your screen due to the level’s wind gimmick..

The games hit and collision detection also rears its ugly head at you in the games final stage, when you’re pit against enemies that have a spear. I don’t know if it’s the hit detection or The Karate Kid’s hit boxes specifically, but knocking a spear away from these enemies can be next to impossible, unless you use a special attack, which is why I usually hoard them until the final level. You can actually get quite a bit of your special attacks saved up if you use them conservatively and get lucky with the games bonus stages. While you’re traveling through the action stages, you’ll sometimes be able to enter random strangers’ homes or shops in order to participate in one of three mini-games. These games usually only last for a couple of seconds, but if you do well enough at them you’ll be able to collect some crane kicks and drum punches that’ll make the game a lot easier. The mini-games themselves aren’t anything special. You’re either forced to train with the swinging hammer, which can be done by facing it and punching at the right time before it hits you, to karate chop six blocks of ice by attacking when you’ve maxed out the mini-game exclusive power meter, or by catching flies with a pair of chopsticks. Of all the mini-games, this one is by far the easiest, as you can basically just go berserk on your NES controller and catch all of them before time runs out. The mini-games you’re given are randomized each time you play the game, which is nice in theory, until you realize that this bit of RNG can directly impact whether or not you’ll be able to survive the game’s last level.

Daniel training with a swinging hammer (The Karate Kid NES)

At the end of each action stage, you’ll face Chozon, Daniel’s rival from the film, in one on one combat. However, these three encounters aren’t identical and each feature slightly different fight parameters. Your first fight against Chozon is a simple one on one fight, but your second fight actually doesn’t even require that you fight him at all, as you only need to rescue the girl from the telephone pole near him to end the level. In fact, it’s actually advisable that you don’t fight him here, as that would likely mean using a few special attacks, which are vital to beating the fourth level. As for your third and final fight with Chozon, you do need to fight him here, while also making sure that Kumiko doesn’t fall off the arena you two are fighting on. It’s actually quite simple though, as all you need to do is play defense and spam special attacks at Chozon to defeat him. Playing aggressively doesn’t work here, as advancing on Chozon will either lead to Kumiko falling to her death, which results in you losing a life, or you kicking Chozon off the arena. Kicking him off is the worst scenario here as it actually heals him completely, prolonging the battle. Beating Chozon at Sato’s castle leads to a pretty lackluster and minimal congratulations screen, followed by an even simpler “The End” screen before the game resets to the title screen.

Closing

 All in all, The Karate Kid is a pretty short game, clocking in at just about 10 minutes long if you know what you’re doing. While that’s extremely short for an NES game, I honestly can’t say I’m particularly bothered by that. In fact, if anything, I’d say that this game’s short length is a bit of a plus for the title, especially nowadays since it can only really be looked at as a curio. By being four levels long, the game honestly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome for me and actually feels pretty well paced, all things considered. It’s first level eases the player into how combat works in the game, before introducing them to a fairly standard and easy platforming stage. Then, the difficulty is raised by the storm level, which introduces more stage hazards and the idea of a secondary boss objective and culminate in the final, much harder, level. On paper, this is actually a fairly decent structure for a game, and makes a bit of sense. The execution definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s still a fairly well paced game. The short length honestly also helps curve the games difficult a bit, by ensuring that you won’t have to wait that long to get back to where you had previously been in the game after getting a game over. 

Overall, The Karate Kid on NES is fine. It’s nothing to write home about, but it definitely doesn’t deserve the hate it gets. I actually kinda prefer it to the game that seemingly inspired it too, if I’m being honest, as that game also had its share of collision issues and a high difficulty. Although I’ll also be the first to point out that, as a game released in 1987, this is pretty bare bones. Kung Fu, on the other hand, was originally released in Japan back in 1985, which was a very different time in gaming. It was perfectly fine for games like Kung Fu to be the way they were when they were released, and The Karate Kid unfortunately came out in a time when games were getting longer and more complex. While the game’s introduction of platforming changes reflects this increased complexity, it’s fairly obvious that at least some it’s design was a little antiquated for the time.

But in the 21st century, I’d hardly call that a problem. Nowadays, The Karate Kid is just a short, relatively flawed game. While I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend it as something worth going out of their way to play, I’d also call it a relatively fun title for what it is. It’s graphics are fine, it’s music isn’t terrible, it’s simply… a game. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t particularly memorable either.

So did The Karate Kid for NES hold up? Kinda? I mean, I think this games deflation in value over the years has actually helped justify picking it up, if anything, so I’d say it’s aged well in that regard. If you can get this game for cheap, and I mean cheap, you might have some fun with this one. It’s got a two player mode that’s similar to what’s on the original Super Mario Bros, which can be fun, and it’s also got a one on one mode that exists, and nothing more. It didn’t teach me any karate though. So that’s false advertising. 


If you enjoyed this post and want more game-themed goodness, feel free to check out some of our other posts, or consider subscribing to our blog for updates on future posts and videos!

Subscribe to read more posts like these!

Retro Review: Balloon Fight (NES) – Does It Hold Up?


Oh Good ol’ balloon fight. Where do I start with this classic NES title? It’s original Japanese release was for Nintendo’s classic console, the Famicom, before working getting released for it’s western counterpart, the NES, as one of the consoles’ famous Black Box games. Like several other early NES titles, it also had an arcade version appropriately titled “VS Balloon Fight, which actually came out before the NES/Famicom version. It’s since been ported to a handful of 80’s PCs, got a second arcade port via the NES Play Choice 10, has been released on each iteration of the Virtual Console and NES Online service, and was also available on the Game Boy Advance e-Reader, which is actually the first version of the game that I owned as a kid. Even though my first copy of the game was for the e-Reader, I had actually grown up playing the NES release at a family friend’s house. The teenage son of one of my mom’s friends used to baby sit me when I was little, and I remember being mesmerized by his NES collection, as I recognized the console due to my Mom owning one and a copy of Super Mario Bros. Playing his NES when I’d visit his house was actually how I was introduced to games like Balloon Fight, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and is probably one of the reasons why I’m a fan of retro gaming to begin with. 

But back to Balloon Fight.

At it’s core, Balloon fight is an extremely simple game and owes a lot of it’s design to 1982’s Joust. Honestly, while one could easily put both games beside one another and quickly conclude that Balloon Fight is nothing more than a Joust clone, I like to think that they’d be wrong in that regard. While undeniably similar to Joust, I do think the tweaks and variations that Nintendo’s version made to the graphics and presentation of the game make it a more interesting and fun experience. However, this could also just be bias on my part, as I’ve been playing Balloon Fight for as long as I can remember.

I’ve always felt that, when it came to the early NES library, specifically the black box titles, games came in one of three flavors. There were your sports titles which mostly haven’t aged well, your arcade titles that have aged better but are also rooted in mid 80’s game design, for better or for worse, and your company defining Italian Plumber’s games. Oh, and fourth tier for the Donkey Kong games, which honestly fall into the second tier of early NES games but are more iconic due to featuring Donkey Kong. However, of all of the early NES’s arcade-style games, again excluding Donkey Kong, I actually think that Balloon Fight is the best of the console’s early offerings.

Gameplay

Balloon Fight’s title screen, showcasing it’s 1-player, 2-player, and Balloon Trip modes.

Upon bootup, Balloon Fight has three different modes. It has your standard single player mode, a cooperative mode that mirrors it, albeit with a second player and the inclusion of friendly fire, and a third mode named Balloon Trip, which I’ll get into later.

The main objective of Balloon Fight is to fly your character around the stage in order to pop the balloons of the other characters on screen. You can pop their balloons by crashing into them from above, which sends them parachuting to the ground. Once they’re on the ground, you’ll be able to — uh — kill them, I guess, by crashing into them a second time, though it can be from eye level now if you like to stare your victims in the eye before de-rezzing them. If you fail to finish them off once they’ve landed, they’ll eventually inflate new balloons and take to the skies again.

Like I said earlier, it’s a very simple game and fits in very well with other arcade titles from the early 80’s. While there are obstacles for you to avoid, such as a giant fish, flippers that would later become iconic thanks to their appearance in the Super Smash bros series and lightning sparks that can one shot you, Balloon Fight lays a lot of its cards on the table in it’s first stage, which only has three enemies and a single large platform. This first stage is incredibly easy and can be beaten in seconds, but it’s a low stakes enough arena for new players to acquaint themselves with the controls.

 In order to fly, you’ll need to repeatedly tap the A-button or hold the B-button on your controller in order to make your character flap his arms as if they were wings. The controls are remarkably simple, and perfectly functional. They’re good, but not too good, and can best be described as the right mix of being floaty enough to be challenging, but responsive enough to feel intuitive, falling perfectly into the arcade design maxim of being “easy to learn and hard to master.” While your character is flapping his arms, you’re able to steer him to the left and right of the screen, either to chase or escape your enemies. Because you can only steer while you’re flapping your arms, there’s a layer of strategy to traveling around the game’s stages, and you’ll often find yourself needing to balance your ascent and descent in order to wiggle your way out of tricky situations and avoid taking a hit. Similarly, you’ll often find yourself rocking the d-pad to the left and right in order to stop yourself from overshooting your target. Your character comes stocked with two balloons and can get hit twice before losing a life. I love the fact that this is clearly telegraphed to the player by the number of balloons that your character has as, while it’s a small detail, it’s as quick and easy an idea to pick up as the rest of the game, which helps with it’s accessibility. If you lose a balloon and finish a stage, you aren’t automatically re-equipped with an additional balloon until you reach the games bonus stage, which has you chasing free floating balloons as they escape from pipes. Again, really simple stuff here, but a lot of fun nonetheless due to the controls, which keep things feeling just a little hectic. 

While I’m not the best Balloon Fight player in the world, I never feel particularly cheated out of a life when I’m playing the game. Yes, there are moments where I feel out of control of my character, but I always am reminded of the fact that this is by design and, as such, don’t feel that frustrated. The only real complaint I have is that you don’t get any sort of invincibility frame after you take a hit, which means that it’s easy for enemies to trap you on the top of the map and quickly pop both of your balloons, causing you to lose a life. This probably has more to do with the game being from the mid 80s  than anything though, and while I’m not thrilled about it, does lead to more tense and thoughtful gameplay for you, the player.

Visuals

Presentation wise, Balloon Fight also keeps things simple. Your character has a couple of animations that he cycles through, and is a fairly small and undetailed sprite. Despite this, it’s a little hard not to get a feel for the sort of character that he is, given his primary color scheme and the fact that he’s flying around on balloons. He comes across as a bit whimsical and playful and certainly represents that Nintendo wholesomeness that the company has tried to sell us since the 80s. In fact, I vaguely remember thinking that he was Mario as a kid, likely due to him and the unpowered up Mario sprite from the original Super Mario Bros being similar sizes. The graphics surrounding him are also somewhat playful — though it’s interesting that Balloon Fight takes place at night against a black background when the games playful theme and premise are almost begging for a sunshiney backdrop, which is even reflected in the games Famicon artwork. I’m assuming this had something to do with hardware and color palette limitations from the time, but I could be wrong. Either way, I actually like how sparse the background is in this game as it keeps the focus squarely on your character and his opponents, who are colored to contrast against you.

Balloon Fight (1-Player) Gameplay

Music

There’s even a lack of music in the typical Balloon Fight stage, which also points towards trying to focus on popping your enemies bubbles. That’s not to say that there isn’t accompaniment to the gameplay though. In addition to the sorts of bleeps and bloops that you’d expect from an NES title, there’s also what could best be described as “free-form sine-waves” that follow you through the gameplay. It’s a little hard to listen to at first, sounding a bit like  but I’ve even kind of come to be amused by it and like to imagine Bugs Bunny conducting a high-pitched Moog synth or something whenever I hear it start playing. I honestly don’t miss listening to chiptune-y music while I’m playing this game, which might be due to it’s arcadey design. It reminds me of being in high school and playing Atari 2600 or early arcade game on an emulator in the middle of the night, with my only accompaniment being the bleeps and bloops of the gameplay.

However, that’s not to say that Balloon Fight doesn’t have traditional music in it. In fact, Balloon Fight has what might be one of my favorite NES tunes of all time. In the games bonus stages, as well as in it’s third game mode, Balloon Trip, the game hits you with an absolute bop of a song. It’s an extremely playful song that has the kind of bassline that gets stuck in your head, as well as a melody that’s equally catchy. Balloon Fight also has a great game over jingle that, in my opinion, is equally catchy Both tunes capture the sort of whimsical presentation that I believe elevates this game over Joust. There’s a breeziness to this game that feels incredibly inviting to newcomers, and the music, despite how it isn’t even played during levels, is a great companion to that.

Balloon Fight (Balloon Trip)

Speaking of Balloon Trip, it’s crazy to think that this is only a secondary game mode, as it’s extremely addictive. Instead of floating around a static screen and trying to ruthlessly murder other air travelers, the objective of this mode is to navigate a autoscrolling obstacle course, which is filled with sparks for you to avoid, balloons for you to collect, and bubbles that can stop the screen from moving for a couple seconds. That’s seriously all there is to it; it’s an extremely quaint romp that repackages the flight mechanics of the main game and turns them into an endurance test. While it’s the part of the game that a lot of us remember most fondly, it’s also really only designed to be secondary to the main game mode. That said, I’d honestly love to see Nintendo revisit Balloon Fight and give this mode a treatment similar to Super Mario Bos 35 or Tetris 99. I think the idea of racing through an obstacle course with maybe a dozen or so other players would be a lot of fun, and it would be cool to see Nintendo revisit another one of it’s classic games outside of giving his trademark flying abilities to Animal Crossing characters in Super Smash Bros. 

Closing

And there you have it. Like I’ve said multiple times throughout this review, Balloon Fight is an extremely simple game. While it doesn’t have that much going for it in terms of variety or complex objectives, it gets a lot of mileage out of what is there and honestly has some pretty incredible physics for an early NES game. Thanks to being such a common early NES title, as well as one that’s not necessarily in that high of demand, it doesn’t seem to command that high of a price online either, at least once you factor in the fact that NES games seem to be rising in price, That’s mostly anecdotal to what I’ve seen though, but the point I’m trying to make is that Balloon Fight is a great addition to any NES newcomers collection. It provides tons of fun, bite-sized, gameplay through it’s main game mode, as well as a ton of fun to be had via the Balloon Trip mode. If you’re new to collecting for the NES and are looking for something easy to pick up and play, perhaps with family or a younger sibling, you really can’t go wrong with Balloon fight. And for Nintendo Switch owners, you can actually play the game for free right now through Nintendo Switch Online. If you’re like me and like to mindlessly play video games while you rewatch a TV show for the millionth time, this game will be right up your alley!


If you enjoyed this post and want more game-themed goodness, feel free to check out some of our other posts, or consider subscribing to our blog for updates on future posts and videos!

Subscribe to read more posts like these!