Super Mario Bros.

Though it may be eclipsed by its sequels (especially Super Mario Bros. 3), this game is not only an important piece of gaming history, but a great way to spend a few hours, especially as a means of introducing someone new to the gaming world.

After such a long absence from reviewing, you might question why I would start again with Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Why would I spend time reviewing such a mainstream game that most gamers have likely played at least once in their lifetimes? Shouldn’t I be taking on one of the other 700+ games in my library that are more obscure? Do I think I can state anything about this game that someone else has not previously said?

Those are all legitimate questions. Though Super Mario Bros. gave rise to the platformer and boosted the popularity of the NES, its formula was refined by later titles in the series. The games got larger. The graphics became more detailed. The power-ups changed to include frog suits, flight feathers, and more. There seems little reason to go back to the original, no matter how revered it may be for its place in gaming history.

However, thanks to a self-imposed responsibility to teach a friend about video games, I recently rediscovered Super Mario Bros. and how fun this game actually is. It’s something that I had forgotten over the years, considering the game too simple to be worth replaying.

Because the game is so well known, I won’t go into a lot of specifics, as these can easily be found with a quick Internet search. What I will do is urge all of you to give Super Mario Bros. another try. Though it may be eclipsed by its sequels (especially Super Mario Bros. 3), this game is not only an important piece of gaming history, but a great way to spend a few hours, especially as a means of introducing someone new to the gaming world.

Highly recommended

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Astyanax

Overall, Astyanax isn’t a bad game, and for those of us looking for hack-and-slash action on the NES, it is probably one of the better titles to choose from. Though the game does not rank among the best the 8-bit era has to offer, it will provide a couple of hours of fun—interspersed with the occasional expletive as you fall victim to another cheap pit death . . . .

Finding a good hack-and-slash game on the NES isn’t an easy prospect. It’s a genre that would thrive on the 16-bit consoles, with games like Golden Axe and Knights of the Round being ported from the arcades, but the titles on the leading 8-bit platform were scarce. For this reason, Astyanax caught my eye when it was released back in 1990, and though it took me another 19 years before I would add it to my collection, it always remained in my mind as one of those games I had to get my hands on someday.

So, the burning question is, was Astyanax worth the wait? Is Astyanax a good game?

If making a good game were just a matter of combining aspects of already successful games, then there would be no question, as there are qualities of this game which are reminiscent of Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and The Legendary Axe—all games which are typically held in high regard. Astyanax has similar platforming and controls to Castlevania. Its presentation includes cut scenes to help tell its story, just like Ninja Gaiden. The gameplay is also quite similar to The Legendary Axe, especially considering how your axe powers up the longer you wait between attacks in both games. Unfortunately, though Astyanax appears to borrow from these and similar games, it lacks the polish of these games. The controls often feel unresponsive and the hit detection can be poor. The cut scenes, though attractive, really do not add a lot to a very basic save-the-princess storyline. Even powering up your axe has its problems. Along with your power bar increasing, you will also be able to upgrade your weapon when you receive a special token from the stone idols placed throughout the levels. The first token you will get changes your axe to a spear, which actually decreases your attack power. If you find another token, you will then wield a sword, which is the most powerful of the three weapons, but unless you are sure you will be able to upgrade to the sword, there is no reason to take one of these tokens, as it will just make defeating your enemies more difficult.

The graphics are probably the one area in which Astyanax shines, but there are still issues that prevent it from really excelling even in this regard. For an NES game, your character sprite is large, as are those for many of your enemies, such as the skeletons and the mini-bosses. The problem this creates is that it only takes four or five enemies to appear onscreen to cause a lot of flicker and a painful amount of slowdown. This slowdown will often be crippling, as it makes the controls that much more unresponsive, which will often lead to you taking cheap hits and falling into one of many pits to your doom. Strangely, there does not appear to be a lot of slowdown when facing the end bosses, which are huge and well defined. As is the case with many NES games featuring large bosses, the background is removed for boss fights, and all that will appear onscreen are a ground plane, your character, and the boss. While the bosses look nice, they are not well animated, and will frequently feature just one or two parts that actually appear to move. It’s not enough to detract totally from the presentation of these enemies, but it is noticeable.

Overall, Astyanax isn’t a bad game, and for those of us looking for hack-and-slash action on the NES, it is probably one of the better titles to choose from. Though the game does not rank among the best the 8-bit era has to offer, it will provide a couple of hours of fun—interspersed with the occasional expletive as you fall victim to another cheap pit death . . . .

Recommended (with reservations)

RoboCop

Drawing from the movie’s memorable villains and characters, RoboCop for the NES could have been one of the better action games of its time. Unfortunately, some very poor design choices prevent this game from being as successful as the arcade port and condemn it to be just another average NES title.

In 1987, Orion Pictures released RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s dystopic masterpiece that weaves in strong themes of individual worth and identity. Of course, at the time of the movie’s release, much of this was lost on me. I was thirteen, and I wanted to see the movie because it had a cool-looking cyborg. Yeah, I was all about the cyborgs. Now, I am able to appreciate all that Paul Verhoeven was attempting to capture in that movie, and I count it among my top ten movies of all time.

Data East soon released an arcade game based on RoboCop, and the few times I came across the machine, I plunked all the quarters I had into it. I never progressed very far (I swear, that game was made to siphon all your change from you), but I reveled in the ability to be RoboCop, if just for a few minutes. Once I found out that RoboCop was going to come to the NES, I was thrilled. It was a game I had to own, and I anxiously waited for its release.

And so I waited. And I waited. And I waited. For some reason, Data East kept delaying the release of this game. But, if they were taking all this extra time to tweak it, the end product had to be . . . well, awesome, right?

I believe I got the game soon after it was released, and . . . I was underwhelmed. For one, the RoboCop sprite looked OK in the game, but why was he green? They used blue in the intro and they used blue for his indicators, so why is the actual sprite green? That may seem like a minor gripe, but it just scratches the surface of how poorly this game captured the movie. For example, most of the enemies in the game have nothing to do with the movie. Robocop is attacked by dogs, guys on motorcycles, guys in purple who like to jump kick . . . the list goes on. Why they didn’t choose more of the actual enemies from the movie (how about Nash and Emil?) is beyond me. Sure, the arcade game had some of these same enemies, so if I enjoyed it, how can I pan this game for doing some of the same things? Well, the arcade game got some things right, such as RoboCop’s look and a good rendition of the theme composed by Basil Poledouris. One of the big things the arcade game didn’t have was a power indicator. Since RoboCop has an energy gauge, there was no need to introduce another gauge in the NES version that depletes as time passes. It was an ill-conceived notion that makes the last level, in particular, quite a chore to play through.

Drawing from the movie’s memorable villains and characters, RoboCop for the NES could have been one of the better action games of its time. Unfortunately, some very poor design choices prevent this game from being as successful as the arcade port and condemn it to be just another average NES title.

Not recommended