Monday, December 24, 2012

Die Hard (NES)

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Here we go again: the holiday season! You've only got a few days left to wrap those gifts, gang! In order to take your mind off of the holiday doldrums, here's a game that is very peripherally related to Christmas. For some reason that I can't fathom, there really aren't that many games appropriate for the holidays. Aside from the bible games on the Nintendo and the occasional PC game hack or add-on that adds Santa hats to everything from Lemmings to Team Fortress snipers - there really isn't much in the Christmas game department. So here I am plumbing the limited well of Die Hard games to celebrate our snowy season!

So when we last left our grizzled hero John McClane: he was trudging through the original trilogy of Die Hard flicks in 1996's "Die Hard Trilogy" for the Playstation. A game that I recommended only based on the relatively low price point and the fact that you get 3 different games in 1 which was a novel idea and you could tell that the programmers really tried with that game. That game didn't hold up over the years but the NES is timeless, right? Surely this game should hold up much better than the pixelly, polygonal mess of sludgy Playstation-era gaming.

It's no mystery that movie licensed games are hit-or-miss and perhaps no system has more misses than the NES. Lethal Weapon, Total Recall, Terminator, Jaws, Rambo, Platoon, Friday the 13th: these are all games that I hold some quirky nostalgia for, but are ultimately terrible cash-ins. That being said, any of the Capcom Disney games were usually a success and Taito did a decent job with the Hannah Barbera stuff. Hell, even Willow was decently executed. So the question is: can Activision do what LJN, Bandai, or Sony Imagesoft were unable to do? Can they actually make a true-to-cinema representation of Die Hard?


and No.

...and figure out what this buffoon is actually trying to say!
Ok, let's get this right out of the way because it's necessary to put this game into context. This game is hard. I'm not just talking "Nintendo hard," this game is an unrelenting hail of bullets coming straight at your face. When I do these reviews I usually either tackle games that I've already beaten or gotten far enough along that I could easily give you guys and gals the gist of the entire experience. This game is so taxing that I have to admit - I had no choice but to call in the Genie. That's right: I'm a cheap, tawdry, tart in a pink tu-tu. A filthy, no good, down-and-out cheater. You may not respect me in the morning, but at least I got past the first floor. Let's continue.
So many objects on the screen that my NES is having a seizure!
Stylistically speaking, this game is very reminiscent of Alien Syndrome meets Gauntlet. A top-down perspective shooter where it's you versus 40 terrorists. The objectives are such: defeat all of the 40 terrorists, free the hostages on the thirtieth floor, knock out the security computer on floor 5 and defeat Hans the mastermind. So far, so good. The game takes many elements from the film and doesn't add a lot of useless, nonsensical fluff like most movie and tv tie-in games. There aren't pacman ghosts, spiders, dragons or anything that John McClane wouldn't have reasonably faced in the movie. Broken glass is one of the only main obstacles outside of gun-toting thugs and even that has a connection to the film.

                                              God Bless Youtube. Video by user ccnipper

So overall, one could argue that the game is a decent film tie-in based on the relative accuracy, the decently rendered cutscene graphics, and the fast action. However, the difficulty level of the game really mars the enjoyment level. Enemies pop out of dark corners from seemingly nowhere and will fire off bullets in all directions like a "bullet hell" style Shmup. They have a seemingly endless supply of bullets and have no trouble hitting you with most of them. YOU on the other hand are saddled with being able to shoot in awkward 90 or 45 degree angles with no real fluidity or finesse. This is predictable and expected of an NES game, but why can't the enemies be saddled with similar restraints. Or better yet, why can't the easy mode be easier? One of the only main differences between the two modes of easy or difficult is the randomization of floors. There are plenty of powerups in the game that can heal your hitpoints or foot power, but getting past the enemies and to a vending machine or medkit can be a struggle in and of itself - coupled with the fact that any corner that isn't in your immediate periphery is blacked out until you reach it.

Monkey statues = awesome
Another main downfall of the game is that the replayability level is relatively low. Unlike similarly oriented action games such as Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Alien Syndrome, Smash TV, or The Immortal: there's just not much variety waiting around the next corner. One relatively stale office room or boardroom after another, filled with tough to kill, generic bad guys, and no real room traps aside from the ability to accidentally plummet out of the windows or run into some broken glass and cut your tootsies up. In all of the other aforementioned games, there's danger, excitement, surprises around the corner. Here, there's a bearded bad guy movie cliche' on a two-way radio that gives you the heads up that more nondescript goons are coming to drain the last of your limited ammo and health.

But all of the gauze in the world won't cure his athlete's foot!
Overall, Die Hard is a reasonably successful game. If a challenge is what you're looking for, you will get that in spades. It doesn't have the deepest plot in the world, but neither did the movie. As Todd Snider once said in his song "Tension," "After the bad guy killed off all of the underdeveloped characters, the good guy put a bullet right through his head." The graphics are definitely serviceable, the music is a little grating at times but not a tragedy of Color Dreams proportions, and the fact that the game sticks relatively close to the film without veering off into the no man's land of nonsense game developer fantasies (I'm looking at YOU Nightmare on Elm Street) all add up to a licensed game that isn't perfect but definitely has promise. It's better than Dick Tracy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Gilligan's Island, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Karate Kid, Best of the Best, and Platoon, so that's saying something. It's a bit on the pricier side (being an uncommon title) but would be a good action game to have for any NES collector. Happy Holidays and Yippie Ki Yay, Lukie Gamers!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Friday the 13th (NES)

Friday_the_13th_NESSPOILER: You can’t destroy him because he’ll always come back in the sequel.

In the spirit of the season I decided that I would try out playing some licensed horror games. I thought to myself, “Hey Friday the 13th was a pretty good movie I’m sure they probably made some halfway decent games!” Well I was wrong, horribly… horribly… wrong. I played Friday the 13th for the Nintendo Entertainment System which was published by LJN studios which apparently is a pretty loathed publishing company. I can definitely see merit in disliking games published by LJN as I can safely say that Friday the 13th is an objectively bad game just like a vast majority of other titles put out by LJN. I personally am a big fan of the horror genre and I like to try and play as many games in that genre as possible everything from Alone in the Dark to Amnesia the Dark Descent but this game is something completely different. Very rarely do I find video games bad in the same sense as bad movies but just like how the movie Insidious was an awful sham of a horror film Friday the 13th for the NES is a terrible sham of a horror game.

And live with the memory of having played some of the worst games to ever exist.
In Friday the 13th you play as one of six possible Camp Counselors George, Mark, Paul, Laura, Debbie, and Crissy. Any of those names ring a bell? No? That’s because none of them are characters from the movie this game is supposedly based off. The objective of the game is to succeed at not dying for three entire days and nights all the while having to prevent Jason from killing the counselors and the children residing in the camp. In total you have access to six counselors to play as who effectively act as your lives as anytime you die you can just switch to another counselor. After all six are gone you lose the game. There are multiple areas you can travel through each with its own gimmick like how left is right when traveling on the main road, the interiors of cabins are third person dungeon crawlers and how the forest is a ridiculous maze that you should never even consider entering. In order to "win" the game you will have to enter the cabins at some point and you will have to travel along the road throwing rocks at zombies the entire way, but the forest you can totally avoid and I recommend this highly. In several attempts at play-throughs the main reason I lost was because I tried to use the forest as a short cut to get to another area but wound up getting lost  every time as each area looks identical which is a pretty big problem considering the entire thing is broken up into many sub areas that link into one another.

Friday the 13th_009

Honestly the kids in the cabins the woods were as good as dead anyway.

I'll give the game credit in that the controls are fairly responsive but the gameplay itself is horrendous. The player has two different ways of avoiding being horribly murdered by the hordes of undead, a jump, and the ability to throw rocks these would be great if they were useful. Now bear with me for a moment. One would assume that its hard to flub something as simple as giving the player the ability to jump and attack enemies but LJN messed that up. The starting weapon is a rock that does barely any damage and makes fighting zombies let alone Jason an impossibility as it does so little damage and lacks any sort of stun ability that it might as well be the cane in Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. The jumping despite being fairly responsive is pretty useless as the zombies operate on Ghosts and Ghouls logic where they will pop-up underneath you and in proximity of wherever you land after jumping. Once you get inside a house everything changes into a round of dungeon crawling ala Wizardry where you navigate cabins and pick up and use items in order to further objectives and prevent Jason from killing you.


George + Knife = Happy Face? Maybe he’s the real killer.

I’m going to level with you. This game is so god awful I wouldn’t recommend it by any stretch of the imagination to anyone but a collector or the hardiest of retro gamers. It is likely that there are some features that I may not have discovered during my playtime of Friday the 13th despite having played the game to completion once and having played to failure a plethora of times having admitted this I want to assure you all that I found this game to be terrible in all regards, but it is playable. If you try hard enough and you make sure you draw out a map as you travel through the forest or the cabins then your chances of beating the game grow exponentially. I’d recommend that if Jason pops up as you are traveling from cabin to cabin that you run as the likelihood of you beating him without having picked up the knife is pretty low. Remember kids, LJN is bad and they should feel bad.


Especially because they apparently can’t comprehend that animals aren’t blue.