Grab Bag: NES "First Impressions"

I thought we'd do something new, RetroFans. I figured it was time not only to offer you something fresh, but to challenge myself as well. Here's what I did: I went into my NES ROM collection, randomly chose three games I had never played... and, well, I played them. I played each one for a minimum of an hour. This was enough to give me at least an initial impression of the game's overall quality, and of its merits and flaws.

This ought to be interesting. Here we go.

 

Fist of the North Star (1989, Taxan)

Is that... Puss n Boots? ...and if so, why?

Is that... Puss n Boots? ...and if so, why?

I'm sure a lot of you have seen the 80s anime film this game is based on. A stark landscape, mutated super-dudes, a lot of death, a lot of gory explosions.

They... technically captured that feeling. Didn't knock it out of the park, but I knew what was supposed to be going on.

The game establishes a tone early on; that is to say, from the very beginning, I was wandering to the right and punching or kicking whoever got in my way. True to the source material, if I punched a dude to death, he shuddered, bulged, and blew apart... but it's very tame. I guess the limitations of 8 bit graphics must be taken into account, and also that video games are and were a kids' market (if not exclusively, at least a fair-sized chunk). Then I fought my first boss character, who had an honest-to-God life bar and gave me a little grief. That is, until I sent him wobbling and bloating and popping like a stepped-on grape.

"Anime Elvis and the Leather Boys in Cookie Castle"

"Anime Elvis and the Leather Boys in Cookie Castle"

The graphics are okay-ish, and the sound is a huge improvement on a way earlier version I've seen for Japan's domestic market that went by the movie's native title (Hotoku no Ken). The main character is faithfully represented, and it looks like they did a pretty good job with the space they had. All I can count against it is that it's actually a little too easy... until it's too hard. It's almost removed from human skill as long as you know the basic controls, and only boss characters pose much of a challenge. In fact, it was a boss who did me in. I also think it's weird just how many S&M dudes are on the bad guy team. There's a little variety later on, but not much.

Cowboy Kid (1991, Pixel/Romstar)

If that horse-riding figure is you, it seems that you lose a lot before even making it into town.

If that horse-riding figure is you, it seems that you lose a lot before even making it into town.

There's only a handful of video games from the NES era that are set in the old West. Or in this case, a horrid, manic parody of the old West.

I started the game and had no way to defend myself. I was terrified. Men with guns and poles and even just toughened fists were beating me mercilessly. I ran like hell into the first open door I saw. I was both intrigued and a little unsettled as the man behind the counter casually mentioned the crime rate before offering me a free knife.

"Go ahead, son. You know what to do."

"Go ahead, son. You know what to do."

Yes, this man told me how bad things were, and then as if to fuel the inferno, he gave me a FREE FUCKING KNIFE.

Well, needless to say, it was on.

Immediately emboldened now that I was armed, I fought my way to other buildings to see what they offered me. Everyone wanted money. That could be found by stabbing treasure chests, but I wasn't getting very much. I needed a job. I stabbed my way over to the sheriff, who didn't seem to mind me enforcing the law like a sadistic butcher. I was officially employed.

I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to this game than just wandering around stabbing people, but guess what I did. Apparently the position of deputy sheriff is pay-for-play, because as I slew, my bank account grew. I could buy hats, meat, maps, ladders... I was even wealthy enough to play a little blackjack.

The preferred vice of all too many archetypical Western characters.

The preferred vice of all too many archetypical Western characters.

I ended up diverted hither and yon and didn't get far in the game's main plot (which seems to be the doing-in of specific lawbreakers) but I won't bullshit you: I loved this one. Frantic, cartoony music as I rush around stabbing people with a big goofy smile on my face. I mean, I love the GTA games, and I never do the plot in those until way after random murder gets old. This was like a pared-down 8 bit flavor of the same idea. I even found a glitch in one spot where dudes would just haplessly run at me while I did my emphatic stabbin' dance.

They get sad when you stab them. Understandable, I guess.

They get sad when you stab them.

Understandable, I guess.

Circus Charlie (1984/86, Konami)

"Death be not proud..."

"Death be not proud..."

At first, I seriously thought this would be some bitch shit. The game is about a clown. I mean, I'd say more, but there's not much more to it. Apparently it's a port of an arcade title, so it's just meant to be entertaining.

This game whooped my ass like a drill sergeant on loan from the Devil's army. It is harsh, uncompromising, and it even prompts some existential thought.

"Why do we do this?" sobbed Charlie. "BECAUSE WE MUST!" The lion growled, its voice potent yet tired.

"Why do we do this?" sobbed Charlie.

"BECAUSE WE MUST!" The lion growled, its voice potent yet tired.

I kept “dying” right from the get go, as I rode atop a rather defeated-looking lion while we jumped through rings of fire. There were also vases(?) full of fire, on the ground. Tricky time. I made it to the high-wire, a legitimate danger, especially since it was crawling with monkeys. I went ahead and assumed the monkeys were to be avoided... and I was painfully proven right a time or two. Then there were further tests: trapezes and rolling balls. All of it cost me dearly. I thought I'd won after the trapeze act. But what had I won?

The game started over, more difficult than before. I did not last long.

Circus Charlie is a pretty good representation of what human life is like. We do all these tricks, all these stunts, and put so much at risk... and then we come to find one day that we're trapped in the act until we run out of life to give. Existence is brutal, it never stops moving, and you'd better keep up. Plus, really, no matter what, death will find you. Circus Charlie's not bitching. Circus Charlie's not putting a gun in his mouth. Circus Charlie (as far as I know) hasn't developed crippling alcoholism. So why should we?

Here's the final verdict, based on first impressions:

Fist of the North Star6/10

Cowboy Kid7/10

Circus CharlieDEATH IS INEVITABLE YET WE STRUGGLE UNTIL WE MEET IT/10

"The show must go on... and that is perhaps the most absurd joke of all."

"The show must go on... and that is perhaps the most absurd joke of all."

Until next time, RetroFans... See you later this month.