After taking my beating at Castlevania III, I popped in Power Blade, determined to make a go of something. Power Blade is probably a little overrated. It’s well regarded for the most part, but it’s very similar to Batman, and it’s controls aren’t quite as smooth, nor is it as diverse in it’s game play. On the whole though, it is definitely a solid title. If movement isn’t easy, at least blowing stuff up is. It mixes the fun of slinging 3 boomerangs at once and using the power blade suit (which is both less frequent and less exciting than you’d hope from the title of the game) with the frustration of platform jumps that feel like they’re happening in ankle-deep water to provide a reasonably enjoyable experience.
I was rolling right along, until in the 2nd level, where I ran into bats that looked surprisingly similar to the bats from the Castlevania games. Similar to say the least. I looked a little further and found that Power Blade bats and Castlevania bats were the same exact sprites.
They were slow moving and easy to dodge or kill, but my concentration was broken. For one thing, my Castlevania III deaths were still fresh in my mind, and here was that game’s most boring and lazy monster suddenly staring me in the face again. I mean seriously, what the fuck are Castlevania bats doing in Power Blade? They’re just splashed in there for no good reason, in a game where every other enemy is a robot or a computer or some kind of energy beam. If you’re going to stick in something as pointless as bats, why not a red slime? That’s at least ambiguous enough to make some kind of sense in a game set in the semi-distant future. I quickly lost my last 2 lives, distracted by my irritation at the omni-present bat, and decided not to play any more Power Blade for a bit. The Nintendo Gods had mocked me.
Maybe the problem has been that I’ve been trying to walk the road alone. Here I am, trying to jump right back in with a bunch of tough platformers, when all this time, I should’ve just invited a few people over for a little NES party. Everything’s easier with help, and some encouragement would probably go a long way towards building my Nintendo related self esteem back up. The NES has a whole slew of fantastic 2 player titles to choose from; Super Mario 3, Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Super Dodge Ball, RBI 2, and so on. For me though, I know two multi-player games really stand out from the rest.
Bubble Bobble was one of the weirdest and most randomly enjoyable NES games. You could go it alone and slog it out, but it was really meant to be played 2-player. So intended, in fact, that finishing the games’ 100+ stages of fun by yourself got you this screen:
It’s all for the best. With another person in the room, you have someone to pipe up after a few minutes and suggest muting the game and putting other music on, which is extremely helpful in Bubble Bobble’s case, because that catchy little loop just goes on and on.
It’s impossible not to have fun playing this game with a friend, and since there are only about 4 concepts to master (jump, blow bubbles, pop bubbles, collect fruit) and the controls are simple, you can play it with just about anyone, regardless of skill level. The first time you pop the last bubble on a level and the sky randomly rains green chile peppers, you’ll be hooked.
How could you ever start to describe it to someone who hadn’t played it? Once you got to the part about touching a plastic jug of orange juice and suddenly playing a mini-game where you tried to collect cookie looking things that probably were supposed to be coconuts or something, your friend would give you a blank look and tell you to eat some more pills. And speaking of pills…
Dr. Mario generally winds up somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s on most of the top 100 NES lists you see floating around on the internet. It was well liked, but people who only played it single player just saw a game that was similar to Tetris, and without much to offer once you could max out the level meter and keep going. But I say from experience, and I’m sure a few of my readers will know what I’m talking about: 2-Player Dr. Mario can get heated like no other NES game.
When you pull off a 2-part or more combination of pill popping (I’ll be reusing that phrase in my review for the upcoming Lindsey Lohan: Nightlife game for the PS3), random colored pieces of pills start to rain down on your opponent. The larger the combination, the more pieces fall, and the larger the chance that you spoil your friend’s almost completed combo of their own. You’ll utter few expletives louder than the ones after your sweet 5-part drop that you’re about to set off is bombed by 4 red pills from the sky, all while someone you once called a friend snickers quietly.
As intense as the action can get, the real key to the good Dr.’s party game status is that since the levels and speed can be set however you like, new players can play on a low level side by side against a seasoned pro on level 20. You can easily fine tune the difficulty to make for a competitive game between any two players. I can’t think of another NES game where you can play with a handicap in this way, but it means that anytime you fire it up, you’re in for a high-pressure scrap. Friendships can be tested. Controllers can be broken.
Plus, the Chill music from the game rates as one of the better jams of the 8-Bit era. Again, speaking from experience, unlike Bubble Bobble, you can go ahead and let that one play for the long haul without fear of serious mental imprint.