Thursday, April 7, 2011

Quattro Adventure

Quattro Adventure is a rather obscure game of the NES library. It comes in one of those famous unlicensed by Nintendo cartridges. On the back of the gold cartridge it has a little switch that basically says switch it to position B only if position A doesn't work. Which is basically saying when your NES is crapping out you'll be switching back and forth and nothing will happen. If you do get the game to work, or aren't an old fashioned retro fag and are okay using ROMS, you'll get to play this game. Which is actually four games in one. As you can see above, the spectacular and elaborately colored title screen lists the games for you. I'm going to go in that order, but I will be drawing parallels where I find them. I'm going to focus heavily on Boomerang Kid, because that was my favorite as a child and I think ultimately has the most last-ability. Still, there's a lot of information here. Feel free to scroll down to whatever game you're interested in hearing about. It's organized pretty clearly.

This is Linus Spacehead. This game is probably the worst of the entire collection, which seriously says a lot. Much like the main title screen, this is lazy. When you start the game, there's no instructions, no direction, no help. You're at the bottom of an ocean in a crashed space ship, and don't ask me how you got there. It doesn't make much sense because as you'll see, there are way too many rocks that would have stopped you previously. Anyway, the level name is Bubble Trouble, and the goal is to ride bubbles all the way up to the surface. It's not too hard once you get the hang of it, though fish and bubbles go through rocks and you don't, which is weird and makes for some complications. Oxygen really isn't oxygen, but a timer. So if you get to the surface and your oxygen is going down, and you're confused, hopping out of the water trying to get air, just go right and you'll actually get free. Life's A Beach is the second level, and probably where you'll stop playing this game. Much like it's deliberately trying to pun, it truly makes you feel Life's A Bitch. ...And then you die. And you die. And you die. This level makes all of the game's flaws so obvious and bare you really will reset the game and just move on. But not me! Not yet!

Let's talk controls, first. There is no attack. The duck is hardly a duck. So with all that in mind, you really are just using left, right, and A. The platforms are unforgiving, even in the second level. If you look like you should be landing on the corner, you're falling into the ocean. One hit deaths. Yes, one hit. No life bar. And you only have three lives, which actually means you can only die three times. In most games you have "0 lives" and that means this is it, you're last chance. This is early game programming years, so perhaps it wasn't completely "the rules," but seriously, "1 Life" shouldn't mean when I die that's it. Zero is it, not one. Jumping sucks in this game. Sometimes Linus bounces for no reason. Hit detection is also unforgiving, and when you come up to the crab you really will quit this game. You have to go past the crab, because there's a respawning Tuscon that will take you back every time, otherwise. You can't duck him and he follows you unless you are on the lowest surface. There's only one possible timing to successfully jump this crab. The jumps are also stiff, there's no ability to turn around or decide on your distance. You jump one distance. The only saving grace is the music in Life's A Beach, which is pretty cool, but it will get old fast. I'm now going to quickly list the rest of the levels and comment briefly:

3 - Clifftop Capers: Extreme platforming with trial and error falling down. Birds don't kill which is nice but their hit detection is absurd. Even if they look like they'll fly beneath you, they knock you back.

4 - Swamp Stress: Aptly named. Falling platforms, crocodiles that whip you back, bats that have a nearly undodgeable (made up word) pattern that constantly knocks you back. You are even spawned on a sinking platform.

5 - Treetop Tangle: Pretty easy until the end, where they set it up so you will constantly be thrown back down and probably into a deadly enemy.

6 - Balloon Bother: Basically the same thing as Bubble Trouble, only on Balloons and in the sky.

7 - Rope Bridge Risks: Probably the worst level design ever created. There's no strategy. Instead of a platform that falls after you step on it, this game thinks they're innovative by making platforms fall right before you step on them, which aside from not making sense, they look exactly the same and there's no way to plan for it. Tiny bees constantly knock you back which knocks you into pits, which is cheap because sometimes they take up the entire area you can traverse, so you can't jump or duck past them. It's simply luck. What a piece of shit.

8 - Cloud Climax: Much like the first sky level in Yo Noid, you better be paying attention when this level starts, because otherwise you'll sink through a cloud and die before you even make the first jump. Again, terrible level design based on luck, not timing or skill, especially because of the poor jumping controls coupled with all the platforms only holding you for so long. If you beat this you'll get picked up by what I assume is your mom in another space ship, because you'll have landed on the moon with your complete radio and be sending a signal. Whatever.

Super Robin Hood is one of the best games in the four. You have an attack, a decent duck, even a slide. You actually have hit points (three) and there are a few extra hearts sitting around. What's cool is you can actually have four hearts at a time, and if you get a heart while you have four already, it becomes an extra life. The music is pretty cool, giving you a feeling of adventure. The level designs are great, slowly getting harder as you go with a lot of complex timing involved. It's all doable, but it can get really hard, and you have to slow down and take your time. In that sense it's very old-school Castlevania. The levels also flow fluidly, and it really feels like it's just a big castle. You can technically always back track, not that you'd want to, but that fluidity makes things feel really natural and fun. The problems I have with this game are small, but still worth pointing out:

Lots of invulnerable enemies - It's one thing to have a few, like the heads up in the corners shooting occasionally, but to also have the small walking guys, cannons, fire-breathing walls, falling maces and spiders, it kind of ruins the whole purpose of having a bow and arrow in the first place. The only guys you can really kill are the people.

Attack controls - The bow and arrow does this delay thing (again much like Castlevania with the whip) which is fine, because it's realistic. What's obnoxious is the controls are touchy and sometimes Robin Hood doesn't actually shoot. This is because if you hold down B, he holds the arrow. That's cool, but if you let go of B too early, that means he puts the arrow away because he didn't get it all the way back. That's annoying. Why would I push B unless I was planning on shooting the damn arrow?

Too cryptic - There are some secrets in the game that are pretty clear, but occasionally you'll find times where you don't know how to make the rest of a ladder appear. Eventually you're just jumping up and down in a corner and it suddenly shows up. There's nothing about that that makes any sense. And there's now way to know to do that unless you've got a walkthrough. Zelda got away with these things because it was an official Nintendo game and had all the answers in Nintendo Power. Still, even that is kind of disappointing. Leave hints but make the player problem solve.

Let's first talk about the title screen. It introduces the music, which is pretty good, but it will get old fast. In the castles the music gets really weird and kind of obnoxious, but the caves are good again. Anyway, on the title screen we see Boomerang Kid walk on with a boomerang which he then throws at the Kangaroo. It misses and the Kangaroo knocks him over, and then the boomerang comes back and knocks him down again. First off: this doesn't set up the game well because you can't actually throw boomerangs. You would think so, right? Being a Boomerang Kid? But no, you collect them and go to the exit. Much like Linus, you have no attack. You are a big puss. That's one thing the intro does set up well: you're going to get knocked on your ass. As far as controls, they're better than Linus. It's a bit tighter on the left and right, and though the jump is very similar, there's no bounce and you have more freedom than one possible distance. Besides, unlike Linus, this game is set up so that the control limitations aren't exploited. Which I still maintain is bad game design, and I don't care how awesome the old Castlevania games are, only Super Castlevania IV got it right.

Again, it's one hit deaths, like Linus, but again, Boomerang Kid is set up so that this will not be a huge issue. Just as well, when you die in Linus you go back to the beginning of a level, those levels are much longer and more tedious than in Boomerang Kid, which is one screen well designed. You even get choices between levels, which you'll see the very exciting screen below. You still have no idea which one is better for you unless you've played them both, but still, it means that if you're really struggling, next time through you can go a different way. The biggest problem, however, with this game is the fall damage. Better said: overly particular fall dying. The difference in distance that you will fall and die is absurd. Just a slightly higher platform drop will kill you. Sometimes this turns into beginner traps, especially in the castles, where it's awfully close but technically too far and you make the drop thinking you'll be fine, and then you're dead. This game also gets the lives right "0 lives" means zero lives.

Honestly, though, this game is still too hard to get through in its entirety unless you begin to memorize levels. The Outback is pretty fair, but the castles start to take advantage and exploit the controls. Sometimes the game will trap you, say if you jump too far and go down to a lower platform before you're supposed to. Now you're stuck there and have to wait for the timer to go down and kill you. What a waste. The caves are just a pain because they throw in a lot of enemies and a lot of dissolving platforms, but if you plan ahead you should be fine, until the final level, which is by far the most tedious pain in the ass ever known to such a simply designed NES game. You really just go back and forth in the level collecting boomerang after boomerang, trying hard to make sure the two dissolvable platforms don't completely dissolve because you need them to get back up, until the timer is almost out and you have to rush to the exit. The ending is disappointing, just like the choices screen but saying "Well Done." There's no way to get extra lives, which is pretty awful, and ultimately you'll not bother beating the whole game. Still, the platforming strategies are fun, and the game is beatable, if you take your time and are okay with having to replay some of the older levels again, which are honestly still fun for me even today. You can really master each screen and all the patterns, and then go through as quickly as you can. Despite its frustrations, I really love it.

Finally, and this report will the briefest, is Treasure Island Dizzy. It's probably the most different of the four games, with a completely unlinear style gameplay and very few enemies. Once again, however, you're completely emasculated and have no means of attack. So just like in Linus and The Boomerang Kid, you're stuck running away or avoiding every enemy you encounter like a giant vagina (this is by no means implying women are weak, just using basic gaming phraseology to talk about how this game is LAME). The music is 8-bit awfulness. It gets really mechanical and obnoxious and I don't feel it at all. Right from the beginning I'm annoyed because of the character alone. WHAT ARE YOU?! I have no idea what this character is supposed to be: an egg with arms and legs? Like some strange descendant of Humpty Dumpty? I know Mario gets to have a tail and jump on whatever the hell Yoshi is, but Mario himself is still a human with definable and relatable features. What the crap is this guy? Pausing in this game is super annoying. In Linus things just stop, Super Robin Hood as well, only with the word PAUSE on the screen. Boomerang Kid turns it all black except you and the boomerang (or arrow). This game brings up the most obnoxious screen ever.

Do I really need a message telling me "game paused" with options for sound effects and music? And there's a delay on it, too. You push start and nothing happens at first, so you hit it again and then this thing finally fades on and then immediately fades off. It's just tedious and unnecessary. The intro is misleading, much like in Boomerang Kid. In the intro THAT THING is on a small island, grabs the snorkel, and then jumps into the water. In the beginning of the game you start by water, and you think, "Ooo, water!" You walk in and die immediately. That's right, no oxygen, nothing, just BAM YOU DEAD. You also have one hit deaths in this game, just like Linus and Boomerang Kid. More like Boomerang Kid, it doesn't usually cause problems. There are too many items to pick up and not enough spaces or options in picking up and dropping them. Instead of something convenient like Zelda where you can have a lot of things and just pick what you want to use, this game you can only hold three things, and you're forced to scroll through them. So if you're under water and the snorkel is next to be dropped, you can't pick up a damned thing. Nope. And if you want to keep everything on one screen, after about five items the game overloads and none of the items on the screen can be picked up. Sorry, reset and do it all over again, kthnksbai.

Still, there is a great free roam adventure feel to the game, with an expansive world. If it were a little more clear what items did what and how to use them, I think this game would be a lot of fun. Instead, it's too convoluted too fast, and the cages come off just like any other part of the area until they kill you. Just as well, you have no lives. One death you have to start all over. There's not even a continue. That really ruins it, especially with one hit deaths. In a game that's expansive and free roam, you need to give the player some forgiveness. Imagine if Zelda didn't have lives, continues, or hit points. GEEZ.

My biggest problem with this collection as a whole is how weak and pathetic the characters are. Three out of the four adventure games have no attack. What is that? I understand these games were kiddie, but so is Mario and Zelda. It's not like we're playing GTA or InFamous here and beating up people and banging hookers. We just want to be able to kill enemies instead of constantly running away, trying to dodge, and dying all the time. In a game you want to feel empowered on some level. When a tiny bee can knock you back three feet and make you fall down a hole and die, you're better off going out side and taking bees on yourself. When a character can't jump over a tiny space without stiffly jumping too far and missing the platform entirely, you'd rather go outside and jump from rock to rock yourself. If you can do better than the character you're playing, something is really wrong. It should at least be as good as you, if not better. You want to feel like you have complete control, but also like you can go into another dimension, especially with the term "adventure." Instead, these games--overall--are so limited and weak they're forgettable and frustrating. There's a reason they never became widespread or discussed.

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