Bucky O’Hare (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Bucky O’Hare is another great licensed game from the classic Konami library. You play as the titular Jazz Jackrabbit Bucky O’Hare who must rescue his crew from Toad Empire.  The game features many similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man. At the start of the game, you can choose between four planets that can be played in any order, each of which has a different member of Bucky’s crew. Once rescued, you can switch between different crew members at any time by pressing the Select button. After rescuing all four members, the crew takes on the Toad mothership, with an additional four levels.

The controls are very tight, which is a good thing since the levels can be very challenging, especially once you get on the Toad mothership. However, one very annoying thing about the game is that if you are hit while in midair, your jump is cancelled and you fall straight down. This wasn’t a huge problem for me and didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but it can be very frustrating at points.

Each of the five characters have different primary weapons and special moves that can be activated by holding down the B button. This can take some getting used to. Bucky’s special move is a high jump, so I always found myself wanting to hold down the jump button instead. Most of the characters also go into a crouch when charging their special moves, but if you are crouching while holding down the B button, they don’t work.

Each level has power-ups you can collect to upgrade your characters’ life bar and power meter to increase the strength of your special moves. Often these are found in out the way areas with trickier platforming, so there’s a nice risk/reward element. Each character shares the same life bar but have their own power meters that must be upgraded individually. However, upgrades carry over between levels, so it’s not too difficult to max out every character.

While you can select any of the four planets at the start of your game, the Blue Planet can’t actually be completed unless you rescue Blinky from the Green Planet first. The Blue Planet is also the game’s ice level and slipperiness is even worse here than it is in most platformers, making it one of the most frustrating levels in the game. It’s always great in Mega Man when your acquired weapons allow you to access additional areas or power-ups, but allowing players to choose the order of levels and then making one of them impossible if played in the wrong order is bad game design.

There is quite a bit of die-and-memorize gameplay on some levels, such as the Red Planet where you have to outrun one-hit death lava and you don’t have time to outrun it without memorizing the path ahead of time (and even then it’s still pretty hard). However, the graphics in Bucky O’Hare are really nice and soundtrack is great, so even when it gets frustrating, it’s still pretty enjoyable.

One area where Bucky beats Mega Man is in the boss battles. There is a lot of a variety and most of the bosses have pretty interesting designs. There’s one level where you have to cross lava by riding on giant green balls only for one of the balls to turn into a robot you have to have to fight to finish the level.

Bucky O’Hare certainly has its flaws, but for fans of NES platformers, particularly Mega Man, it’s still a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

Adventure Island IV (Famicom) – Retro Game Reviews

Adventure Island IV (Japan)

Before I started this series of reviews, I was completely unaware that there even was a fourth 8-bit Adventure Island game, which isn’t very surprising since it’s never been released outside of Japan.

Adventure Island IV features a lot of changes to the standard Adventure Island formula. Instead of a straight platformer, AI4 takes place in a Metroidvania-style open world. The witch doctor kidnaps your five dinosaur pals and later your girlfriend and you must travel through six zones collecting new weapons and items and defeating bosses to rescue your friends.

Higgins (technically Takahashi, I suppose) controls similarly to previous games, except that your can no longer hold B to run and the height of your jumps is no longer determined by your speed. One-hit deaths are gone too. Instead you start with two hit points and more can be added by finding heart containers. Your primary weapon is throwing bones, which function the same way as axes in previous games (axes can be unlocked later and do more damage), but you also have a wide variety of other weapons and items which are unlocked by defeating bosses and can be swapped at any time via the pause menu.

There are six zones in the game, each having a miniboss to unlock a weapon or item to help you progress (hammers can be used to smash rocks, torches can light up dark areas, etc.) and a main boss that will unlock an additional item and free one of your dinosaurs. Once you free a dinosaur you can go to a ranch near Higgins’ house to bring one them with you, and you can switch between riding your dinosaur or using your normal weapons with the pause menu. However, if you get hit while riding your dinosaur, it’ll disappear, and you’ll have to go all the way back to the ranch to get it back.

If you lose all your hearts, you’ll be sent back to Higgins’ house (where you can also rest to restore your hearts and get a save-password at any time) but you’re given a teleportation egg at the beginning of the game that you can place on pedestals throughout the world to create a warp point, so you don’t need to replay the same area over again.

You can only access one zone to start with, with additional zones being unlocked in order after you defeat the previous zone’s boss, so there’s no opportunity for sequence breaking. However, you can revisit previously unlocked zones at any time to search for heart containers that weren’t accessible your first time through.

There are a number of minigames that can be found throughout the game. Some of them are mandatory to progress, while others let you win various items to restore your health or a compass that will tell you which direction to go, though navigation is still pretty easy without it.

Thankfully, Adventure Island IV ditches the geometric art style and frustrating level design of the third game, and builds off what the previous games (particularly the second one) did right to create something familiar to fans but at the same time unique to the series. Of the four 8-bit Adventure Island games, it’s probably the easiest thanks having multiple hit points, but there’s still plenty of challenge, especially in boss fights.

If you’re a purist, the game is for the most part playable for non-Japanese speakers, but I still recommend downloading the English-patched version which can easily be found online.

Adventure Island IV is my second-favorite entry in the series so far. Adventure Island II is still the best one, but if you’re a fan of series and have never picked this one up, give it a shot because it’s a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 4/5

Adventure Island III (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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I really enjoyed Adventure Island II so I was eager to hop into the third entry in the series, but unfortunately, Adventure Island III feels a step backwards from the previous game in a lot of ways. The basic mechanics are nearly identical to the second game, a few small additions. There a few more enemy types, you get a fifth dinosaur buddy (a triceratops), and in addition to your standard throwing axes, you now also can find boomerangs. You have to wait for your boomerang to return to you before you can throw it again, whereas you can throw multiple axes in quick succession, so you’re better off just sticking with them. You can also duck now, which can be very helpful in defeating small enemies and avoiding attacks.

But some features have been removed, most notably that the screen can no longer scroll backwards. Similar to the first Super Mario Bros., the screen locks behind you as you progress. As a consequence, the levels where you ascend vertically while going left and right to reach higher platforms have been scrubbed. These were some of my favorite levels in the second game, and it’s really disappointing that they didn’t return.

The art style isn’t as good as the second game either. All of the backgrounds have blocky, polygonal style that is just ugly in my opinion, and some of the levels are made up almost entirely of a few shades of the same color. Even the first Adventure Island had better art direction. Some of the returning enemies have received new sprites and in nearly every case, they’re more generic looking than their Adventure Island II counterparts.

But the level design is the biggest step backwards. There are so many times in this game when you’ll jump over an obstacle or to collect a fruit and an enemy will jump out of nowhere right where you’re going to land without giving you time to maneuver. This happened so often that it had to be intentional, and it’s extremely frustrating. You still have your stamina bar steadily ticking down, so proceeding through the level carefully to avoid these traps often isn’t an option. You just need to die and memorize them for next time. I get that they wanted to make the sequel more challenging, but this is not the way to do it. I don’t want to feel like the designers are intentionally punishing me for playing their game.

Adventure Island III isn’t terrible, but you’re much better off sticking with the second entry in the series. The few modest improvements don’t make up all the things the previous game got right which are removed. I can see myself revisiting Adventure Island II every through years for another playthrough, but I’ll probably never play Adventure Island III again.

Final Rating: 3/5

Adventure Island II (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Adventure Island II is everything a video game sequel should be. It has everything the first game did right, but bigger, better and more polished. The basic mechanics are the same: go right, throw axes at enemies, and collect fruit to refill your stamina bar, but many improvements are made to the formula.

The graphics and music are improved over the first game, as is the level design. There’s a good amount of varieties with some levels focusing on dodging or defeating enemies and others with hardly any foes that are more focused on platforming and making it to the end before your stamina bar depletes, as well as some stages that are mostly vertical and a few underwater stages as well. The levels are much shorter and early ones are a little too easy, but there is a steady difficulty curb as the game progresses.

There are more enemy types this time around and their placement doesn’t feel as random as they sometimes did in the first game, but one really annoying thing is that the same sprites will be used for enemies with different attacks. For example, some snakes will shoot fireballs at you, some will hop at you and some will stand still and do nothing. There’s no indication which behavior each one will have, so you have to stop and wait to see what you’re dealing with while your stamina bar continues to decrease.

In addition to skateboard power-ups from the first game, you now also have four dinosaur buddies you can find in eggs. The dinosaurs give you an extra hitpoint like the skateboard and some of them have unique attacks. The controls while riding the dinosaurs can be a bit slippery though, so on some stages it’s better to just skip them. You still lose your axe when you die, but if you finish a level with an axe or a dinosaur, you can choose to move them to your inventory before starting the next level to stock up for the more difficult levels later on.

One of my biggest gripes with the first game was how the same boss is repeated for every world and thankfully that isn’t the case with with Adventure Island II. The bosses strike a good balance between not too challenging or too easy, but if you die, you have to replay the previous level before facing them again, which is a bit of a pain. (Thank goodness for my ol’ pal, savestates.)

Adventure Island II is not without its flaws, but if you’re a fan of NES platformers, it’s worth checking out.

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Final Rating: 4/5

Adventure Island (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Hudson’s Adventure Island is one of the more memorable platforming series on the NES. Originally planned as a port of Wonder Boy, Hudson lost the rights prior to release and instead adapted it into an original property. You play as Master Higgins who must rescue his girlfriend Tina from an evil witch doctor by traveling through 32 stages divided into 8 worlds.

There are a few things that set Adventure Island apart from other platformers. For starters, there’s a health meter that slowly decreases over time and has to be replenished by collecting fruit found throughout the level. This game features one-hit deaths so you have to balance proceeding cautiously so you have time to react to enemies but quickly enough to get to the end of the stage before you run out of health.

You can’t jump on enemies. Instead you attack by throwing a axes, which are found in eggs for some reason. If you finish a level with an axe, it’ll carry over to the next stage, but when you die you lose your axe and some of the later levels are nearly impossible without it. (Adventure Island definitely lives up to the “Nintendo Hard” reputation.) The axes are thrown in an arc, so if enemies are too close, they tend to just fly over their heads

Eggs may also contain fairies that will briefly grant you invincibility, eggplants (described as Higgins’ least favorite food) which will deplete your health faster than normal until they go away, and skateboards. The skateboards are a mixed blessing. They give you more speed and if you hit an enemy, you lose the skateboard instead of dying immediately, but on stages with a lot of precision platforming, you’re better off just avoiding them.

The game also has a pretty unique momentum system. Jumping while running will give you a higher jump than while standing still, which leads to some tricky situations when you don’t have room to maneuver.

Every fourth stage ends with a boss fight but it’s the same boss every time. The boss will move from left to right and back again and occasionally throw fireballs at you. To defeat the boss, simply jump up and throw axes at his head. (Luckily you’re always given an axe power up right before the boss in case you don’t have one.) The only difference in the fights is the sprite used for the boss’s head and how many hits needed to defeat him. It’s really disappointing.

The graphics and music are okay for a game released relatively early in the NES’s lifespan, but they aren’t anything special.

Adventure Island is a pretty good game overall. It doesn’t rank among the best platformers on the system, but if you’ve never played it before, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Final Rating: 3.5/5