(quick author’s note: NEW WEBSITE! It was time for a change, and i really, really like this look. if you click on the menu over there on the left, there’s a couple of cool things, like a search bar, and the ability to see a list (and a link) of EVERY SINGLE GAME I’M GOING TO PLAY. you’ll notice, there’s a whole lot of unlinked pages. I’ll get there. (eventually) OK, back to the article.)
Up to now, putting the games released in the first wave was easy. Sports games. Gun games, Robot games, and SMB. Now we get into the last six of the 17 original games…and it’s not as easy. I’m breaking them down into “Adventure games” and “others.” I know, I’m creative. Please Venmo me cash in appreciation.
The 3 “Adventure” games are one you’ve never heard anything about, one you may have heard of, and a terrific tie-in to a Jackie Chan movie that doesn’t have the name of the tied-in movie. (you’ve also never heard of the movie) These games are Wrecking Crew, Ice Climber, and Kung-Fu.
Mario is back, and this time, he has a hammer. He’s moved on from plumbing to carpentry, maybe? But the mustachiod, overall wearing Italian (and his brother, Luigi Mario) rejoin our adventure, and this time they’re carrying hammers.
Wrecking crew is an interesting game. The goal is simple.
Wreck. It. All.
Really, that’s it. Every level is a mix of blocks, bricks, doors and ladders, populated by characters that are honestly called Gotchawrech, Gotchawrech Jr (I assume they’re related) and the Eggplant Man.
(I learned this from the manual, which also names the fireball (Fireball) and refers to the hammer as “Hammer” never using any articles, giving it a sense of formal naming that makes me smile every time I read it.)
Mario starts out near the top (but not always at the very top) and the goal is to smash everything smashable, while being chased by the Gotchawrech family, the Eggplant Man, and the aforementioned Fireball). Some items take a single swipe of the hammer, other take 3 or 4. All the while, you’re being chased by the enemies, who you can either outwit by moving away from, or by opening a door, which somehow swaps the enemies into a realm behind the main screen, where they’ll continue to run around until they make their way to another open door, then return from the shadow realm and resume chasing. Fireball will randomly appear and move across the board, killing all the Mario Brothers in the way. When you smash it all, you move onto the next level.
While it sounds simple, it’s not, really. After the first couple of levels, the game starts requiring strategy, as there’s levels you can only get to from specific locations, which you could destroy, leaving the player unable to smash some of the scenery.
And if you die, the whole level restarts, which is nice if you’ve removed the area you need to get to something. It’s miserable if you’ve almost completed a level.
Here’s my review of the game. It’s surprisingly playable. Sure, the graphics are miserable, even for the NES. But if you like a game that requires a little bit of thought, and don’t care about having much in the way of look or sound, the game isn’t easy. It has decent replay value, and it’s entertaining. Find it online somewhere and give it a try. It’s worth your ten minutes.
Ok…so I’m starting to wonder if I have a controller issue, or if these original games are just super clunky when I try to control them. This game should have been easier. Really, it should have been. Jump, clear ice, jump through the hole, then keep going up. Use your hammer on bad guys.
It’s nothing that simple.
I like the concept. Simple game, challenges increase the higher you go. Jumps get harder. Monster start filling in the gaps and attack where you can’t hit them. The ground turns to ice and you start to slide. And it’s even cute. Popo and Nani are trying to save their village by rescuing food stolen by the (bird? Pterodactyl?), so they climb the mountain to recover it. It’s a game with a female character. And they’re even canonically platonic.
But I just found the controls to be super, super clunky. The jump movement seems off. The translation left and right during the jump also seems wrong, somehow.
But man, if I can’t jump and move at the same time, it’s next to impossible to get through the holes. If I repeatedly have to try to catch the same damn moving platform, I’m gonna get frustrated and rage quit.
I rage quit.
I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t. But after watching the gameplay video above, I’m not sure it’s my setup. I think it’s just got crappy movement controls.
Maybe I’m not being fair. The game was (depending on where you look) designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago, the team who make SMB and the Legend of Zelda, and they made it in between Excitebike and Zelda. It’s clearly a game that has potential, and is sort of a step between the original Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros.
But man, do I hate those controls.
Side note-Nani and Popo come back regularly in Nintendo games…they’re characters in the original, and then the Switch, versions of Smash Brothers. They appear in the background of other games, and they even have an Amibo.
(author’s warning. excessive parentheses use in the following article. yes, i see the irony in how i gave the warning)
Finally, a fighting game. In fact, the only fighting game in the original release…and the only one that came out for almost a year after the console did.
And while most of the games in the release list were originals, this one was a port of an 1984 arcade game called Kung-Fu Master, or Spartan X in Japan. There, it was a tie in to a Jackie Chan movie called “Wheels on Meals” (really) which was called “Spartan X” in Japan. (yeah, that’s a tie-in to a movie which were both renamed for Japan. The 80’s were a strange, strange time.)
(I’m 100% on board a Jackie Chan running a movie involving a food truck that has a former Miss Spain as the damsel).
But back to Kung Fu. (or Spartan X, to tie in with a movie that wasn’t called Spartan X.)
The biggest irony is that the movie and the game have literally nothing in common with each other than the protagonist Thomas saving a woman named Sylvia. (Yeah, that’s Thomas, the Chinese guy, in a Chinese movie, set in Spain. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to say how screwy the 80s were.) There’s no food truck, and in the movie, there’s no temple.
But there is action in both the game and the movie. In the game, Thomas fights his way through 5 levels to face off with the boss who stole his girl. Along the way he faces off against villans with the super original names of Knife Thrower (he throws knives) The Gripper (he grapples), Boomerang Fighter (he uses magic) and Black Magician (who carries Uzis and fights from a helicopter). (not really).
The game itself is pretty simple…you can move left and right (on some levels you actually advance to the left, which is against the general rules of almost every side-scrolling video game, especially in the time of Super Mario Bros), jump, and kick or punch (and kick while jumping). Enemies come at you from either the left or the right, and they do what their names are…grappling, throwing knives, or use magic. If you survive the five levels of the temple, you’ll face off against The Gang Leader, Mr X (again, solid names). If you beat him, you save Sylvia and can, I guess, go back to the food truck business, which probably is happily boring after fighting through a temple.
The game isn’t easy, but it isn’t super hard. With limited controls and pre-programmed enemy appearances, it’s just a matter of time of figuring out rhythms and going to town. I’m sure if I played more than half an hour or so, I’d get pretty far.
The most important influence of Kung-Fu Master/Spartan X is that it’s the first fighting game (and second game after Moon Patrol, which my boys LOVE to play on my arcade) from the game creator Takashi Nishiyama. He’s not truly in the Nintendo developer stable, because this game was a port, but he WAS super important to video game history…Kung Fu Master, and it’s side-fighting action, was the prototype for his most famous game, Street Fighter, which followed in 1987. He also was a producer for the first Mega Man, and the first and third Metal Slug games, plus a bunch of highly rated games you’ve probably played if you’ve read this much.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll close out the original games next post with Clu Clu Land, Pinball, and one my all-time fave NES titles, Excitebike.