Grab Bag: More NES Titles!!!
KUNG FU GHOSTS!!! THE SIMPSONS!!! RONNIE JAMES DIO
I spent a good while away from the NES just to freshen it again for myself. Like any (mostly) good thing, it can get to be overwhelming, and one must break stride and smell the roses. Well, I did all that shit, and then I plopped myself back in front of the NES to take a look at 3 more games I was more or less unfamiliar with. In this article, I’ll discuss how they went over with Bryan Eddy, the Jury of One.
I’m also going to try out a new rating system, a little more in-depth than my usual screed of just rating a game using one lazy star-rating. I will rate individual aspects on their own, and then use these to evaluate the overall picture of the game.
1988 (1990 US)
When I say that they should have just called this game Straight-Up Just Kicking Ghosts in the Fucking Face, I don’t mean to cheapen or degrade it. The activity mentioned in my suggested title is what you end up spending 90% of your time doing, but it actually totally rules. Various reviews before mine have consistently given Phantom Fighter slightly above-average ratings overall, and I’d have to concur with the prevailing opinion here.
Apparently based off a 1985 film called Reigen Dōshi in Japan and Mr. Vampire in English, Phantom Fighter places you in the role of a kung fu master who has the special gift of placing his foot right into ghosts and making their trick asses regret being ghosts in the first place. Several villages nearby have been having problems with “kyonshi” (which I think is just a Japanese-ized rendition of the Chinese word “jiangshi,” a type of undead creature commonly described as a hopping vampire) and have petitioned you for help. Since you are a man of virtue and can kick the unliving shit out of undead monsters, the adventure begins.
I gradually cleared out the first village and people kept giving me scrolls. I wasn’t entirely sure what they were for until later I used several of them to learn things called “High Jump” and “Wolf Move.” Apparently, you expand your repertoire of sick techniques by studying with a master, and the scrolls are currency. I also had to collect some “jades” that unlock a seal so I could kick something else’s ass (a boss ghost who left Alucard-style movement trails behind him).
There’s not a ton of variance in the enemy except for how powerful they are, but fighting the kyonshi is fun once you get the timing and spacing down. It’s nice that the items and upgrades don’t overwhelm the game, but I wish things progressed faster on that end… the sprawl seems a little unrewarding, especially early on when you could struggle a bit.
Gameplay 7/10 (it’s fun to beat the shit out of Wuxia vampires)
Audio 8/10 (pretty good OST, especially the combat music)
Graphics 6/10 (good for NES type stuff)
Theme 8/10 (I’m a sucker for the M.A./horror blend)
Big Picture: 7/10 (A bit underrated!)
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
This is a polarizing title in the NES library. A lot of players love it because it’s 1) the first Simpsons video game 2) brutally “challenging.” Another camp despises it because it’s 1) banked completely on its licensing 2) fucking stupid hard, not to mention boring.
I played it for about 20 minutes and fell into the second category.
Bart has all the maneuverability of an overripe fruit someone dropped on a hot day. He lopes and bumbles through a perpetually overactive environment as he tries to turn purple objects red. Purple objects are apparently one crucial ingredient necessary for the space mutants (the only well-rendered things in the game) need for some kind of devastating weapon.
You can get on a skateboard, which helps you get hurt more and faster. You also pick up various implements that I guess are supposed to help you, but really don’t unless they are oriented toward a specific puzzle solution. Toy stores and tool stores sell them to you, and you buy them using mystery money that just tumbles out of random shit. You’re able to stand on things that make no sense and can’t stand on surfaces that make perfect sense. This game is an affront to the platform genre, AND I HOPE YOU LIKE THE SIMPSONS THEME BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PLAYS OVER AND OVER AND OVER, AN 8 BIT VERSION OF THE SIMPSONS THEME.
I am unashamed to admit that I did not finish the first level. I’m sure if I asked the Pope he’d give me an indulgence on that one. No sane or virtuous human being would willingly smash themselves into this hellmouth more than once.
Gameplay 2/10 (Bart needs to go see a middle ear doctor or be evaluated for head trauma)
Audio 1/10 (fuck you)
Graphics 5/10 (it has moments, and I can’t fault it on authenticity either)
Theme 4/10 (eh, I think they just knew we’d buy a Simpsons game)
Big Picture: 2/10 (Skip it. If you’re into it, we’ll have to agree to disagree, and also agree that I worry about your well-being.)
Let me jump right on the tiger, to quote the Man Himself… the Wikipedia article claims there is no relationship between this game and the Ronnie James Dio album.
Nah, bruh… I’m sorry… that’s motherfucking DIO.
Here’s my interpretation of this awesome (and sadly non-export) platform game: You play as Ronnie James Dio, champion of humanity and righteous heavy metal. You murder every evil thing you find with outrageous magic and basically nothing can stop you. That’s all the story I need, man. I am an unironic and unashamed fan of all things Dio. Plug me in. It’s time to rock.
This game is actually pretty good. It’s a solid blaster-platformer, with a reasonable difficulty curve and a good sense of accomplishment. As you utterly destroy more and more of the wicked demonic creatures, you find power-ups and new spells that make you even more undeniably rad. I was throwing several different kinds of magic into the face of evil and changing forms by the time I needed to stop and write this article.
A lot of the imagery makes it completely clear that this game is directly inspired by Dio and Dio-era Sabbath. I mean, stylized crosses with skulls that look like they could come right off of an early-80s Sabbath album cover? Come on. In other ways, the game reminds me visually of another Japanese game, Getsu Fuuma Den, except more crisp and polished. If I could say anything negative about this game, it’s that I wish it had a little more variety and depth when it came to the magic and power Dio could wield against the forces of evil. He is, after all, master of the fucking moon. The audio is also a bit below standard for a game where you play as Dio.
And you are playing as Dio. We’re not gonna screw around on that point. That is exactly what is up in this game.
Gameplay 7/10 (it’s not absolutely perfect but it’s a lot of fun)
Graphics 8/10 (heavy metal!!!)
Theme 10/10 (RONNIE JAMES DIO IS DESTROYING DEMONS WITH WIZARD POWERS.)
Big Picture: 8/10 (I want to send away for a FC cart of this, shadowbox-frame it, and put it on my wall. It is a fucking cool piece of retro VG history.)
Thanks for reading, and I’ll fill another suspicious paper bag with games real soon!