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What the heck is on this $10 Retro Game handheld? Let’s find out!

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


361. OPTIMUS MINOR

This is a hack of Donkey Kong Jr. that saw a lot of loving care put into it. Grimlick went to the trouble of replacing every sprite with a different Beast Wars character. (And Optimus Minor was never on the TV show, just in the toyline and later spinoff comics! He’s a deep cut!)



362. PAC MAN

This is indeed Pac-Man. Like a couple of other games here, my first exposure to Pac-Man was the Atari 2600 port. While I’m sure the Famicom ports are still primitive next to the arcade version, they always seem so fancy compared to my Atari memories. We’ve seen several hacks of Pac-Man, but this is the first time the original has come up.



363. PAC PACLAND

Entertainingly, this is a hack of Clu Clu Land (#85), starring Pac-Man and various ghosts.



364. PENTA BASE

Shooting game by Nice Code. You pick one of the five directions and try to shoot the pink blob-monsters. The original was called Five Days and featured a still soldier who cannot move, only aim. Also called Final Man, Last Man Standing, and Strafe.



365. PINBALL

Original Nintendo Pinball. We saw a hack of this as Lucky Ball (#281).
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
That is simultaneously one of the most impressive and deep-cut leaden rom hacks I think I’ve ever seen.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Whoa, holy heck, that Beast Wars hack! It feels familiar enough that I wouldn't be surprised if I tested it out back when it was new - 2000 was right around the time I first started trying out emulators. Optimus Primal appears to be taking the place of DK senior up there, so they must have picked Optimus Minor for that primate synergy. What a fun idea! Honestly this is probably the most significant fiction Optimus Minor has ever had. Poor guy. Pretty impressive that they even replicated Minor's packaging artwork in 8-bit for the title screen!

The sprites are vague enough that I'm not 100% sure, but I think I see fellow Transmetals 2 Scarem and Stinkbomb.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


366. POKER

This isn’t just poker; it’s actually a card game collection. It appears to be a Taiwanese bootleg 4-in-1 game made by Sachen. It’s possible they also made a few of the Mahjong games I couldn’t identify.



367. POOYAN

This is the original of the game we recently saw as Bitha (#358). Popping balloons makes much more sense that shooting down umbrellas.



368. POPEYE

Someone had mentioned the Popeye arcade platformer; here it is. You need to grab the hearts and avoid Brutus, unless you grab the spinach off to the left, in which case he’ll flee and your punches actually do something. Popeye cannot jump, and without spinach, can only ineffectively flail his arms. (It’s definitely got a Donkey Kong feel to it.)

Wikipedia notes that this was a Famicom launch game, and Donkey Kong was originally intended to be a Popeye game but they couldn’t secure the license. And yes, they clearly used assets from this to create Popeye no Eigo Asobi (#327).



369. FIRST DEFENDER

A really simple Space Invaders clone made by your friend and mine, Nice Code! Also released as Space Armada, Icarian, M-Day, and Sea Monster. Fun Fact: My mother’s nickname for Space Invaders (on the Atari 2600 we had when I was small) was “Marching Mickies.”



370. RAIDON BUNGELING

Significantly more fun than the hacks we’ve seen, this seems to be the proper original. The controls are still a bit wobbly, but the game functions as intended!
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Bungeling Bay was ported to the Famicom by Hudson, and I seem to remember they had an odd little shared universe between their early FC games, where there were at least one or two other Hudson games which mention the Bungeling empire in their storylines. I could be wrong, though.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I definitely remember that as well; I think Sqoon and Lode Runner, but I’m not certain.

The game is also the genesis of Sim City, as Will Wright had way more fun with the graphic editor making cities than he did using a helicopter to explode guys
 

RT-55J

definitely not a robot
(He/Him)
Also released as Space Armada, Icarian, M-Day, and Sea Monster. Fun Fact: My mother’s nickname for Space Invaders (on the Atari 2600 we had when I was small) was “Marching Mickies.”
I gotta say, your mom is even better at naming things than Nice Code. Very impressive.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
In addition to being the secret origins of SimCity, Bungeling Bay also always felt like an influence on the nascent RTS genre, with the NPC side constantly expending factories and developing new technology to throw new units at the player.

Other stuff from over the weekend:

My first exposure to Snakes was the QBASIC version that I had on a dos-based PC circa 1991. This article claims Snake originated with the 1976 arcade game Blockade.

Oh, I certainly didn't mean to suggest the MacOS freeware was the *first* version of Snake, just that maybe it was what got ported to this NES homebrew version, given the iconography.

363. PAC PACLAND

Entertainingly, this is a hack of Clu Clu Land (#85), starring Pac-Man and various ghosts.

This definitely goes on the growing list of "straightforward but completely unexpected crossover hacks", dang.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


371. ROAD FIGHTER

Not so much “road fighter” as “road dodger”; touching anything makes you crash. The goals is to get as far as you can before you run out of fuel. A port of an arcade game of the same name. Metro Mania (#292) was a hack of Hot Racing, which was a bootleg port of this game. (I think that’s enough layers of difference to call this a new game, though!)




372. RUMBLE AND FRENZ

A Transformers-themed hack of Mario Brothers with an incomplete title screen. I give them credit that you turn into cassette mode when you die.

373. MARIO AND DINOSA

It’s Super Mario 16, as you’d probably have guessed by now.



374. SANSUU ASOBI

Released stateside as Donkey Kong Jr. Math; and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. You need to jump between vines and grab numbers and operators to reach the number Donkey Kong is holding up. This actually feels like it would have been really fun when I was seven.



375. SEA WAR

Though you’re playing as a submarine (or possibly a magic spitting fish), this plays just like Battle City. That’s because (I know, I just can’t maintain tension around here) it’s a hack of Battle City. (Side note: There was a translation of Ys 1 where the Solomon Shrine became the Salmon Shrine, and I can’t help but wonder if that happened here in reverse.)
 
I remember Donkey Kong Jr Math! Definitely didn't own it but I remember enjoying it, wish I could recall where I played it though.
 

RT-55J

definitely not a robot
(He/Him)
My memories of playing DK Jr. Math are from the original Animal Crossing. In that context, it was a perfectly acceptable game.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Whoa, another Transformers romhack? And this one is even older than the previous! I definitely had not seen it before. If we're going by the ordering in the title, the hacker has evidently decided that Rumble is the blue one. A bold choice.

Also, Road Fighter is a very early Konami game, for what it's worth. The fourth game the company ported to the console in 1985, after Antarctic Adventure, Yie Ar Kung-fu (which I think we haven't seen on this handheld yet, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't show up), and Hyper Olympic. And it's got fun artwork:

 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Whoa, another Transformers romhack? And this one is even older than the previous! I definitely had not seen it before. If we're going by the ordering in the title, the hacker has evidently decided that Rumble is the blue one. A bold choice.
Nothing bold about the truth!
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


376. SILENT HUNTER

A submarine battle game; the controls are very unclear. You apparently need to home in on the target through several different targeting/maneuvering screens? This is by Nice Code and was also released as Sub Hunt.



377. SKY DESTROYER

A 3D dogfighting plane game that I have to wonder if Nice Code was trying to mimic with the Close Quarters/Aimless games. This is definitely better than those; the animation is smoother and while it’s still hard to tell what’s moving at it, the game as a whole feels much more playable.



378. SKY INVADER

As the Wikipedia article on Sky Destroyer notes, it was hacked to create Sky Invader, which is conveniently next in our list.



379. SLACK MAN

A Pac-Man hack in which you drop trails of pellets instead of eating them.



380. SMALL DINOSAUR

Honestly, I expected this to be Mario 16 again. But no! This is another version of the Nice Code clone of Kaboom! which we saw as Care Bear (#240). In this version, you need to avoid the golden screws that the kid will sometimes drop on your head, and eat everything else.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


381. SNOWBALL

A Nice Code collection of block-pushing puzzles set to Frere Jacques. We saw this before as Box World (#181), without the snowman graphics.



382. SPACE INVADERS


I had commented on “Marching Mickies” when we saw the clone of it as #369. The original is better in a few ways, but I don’t think there’s anything to it that Galaxian didn’t improve upon.



383. STAR

This feels unfinished. It’s a cool concept: Side-scrolling shooter where you play as a dragon flying through fantasy architecture. Unfortunately, there seems to be a very short stretch of repeating screen, no point counter, no power-ups, and no end that I could find. My best guess is that this the Defender II hack that Nice Code released as “Star,” but it’s a hard game to search for.



384. STAR FIGHTER

This is a different Nice Code rework of Astrosmash (a Galaga clone); we also saw it as Cannonade (#229).



385. STAR FORCE

Another vertical-scrolling shooter that feels like a retread of Xevious, though at least it’s another original game. I’m reasonably certain that Mars (#340) was a hack of this, which is supported by my finding Mars on the list of Gun Fighter Famiclone hacks.



386. STAR GATE

I’m reasonably certain this is just a title-screen hack of Defender II (#88).
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Stargate isn’t a title screen hack, it’s actually Defender 2 under its original name.

Didn’t think it had a port under that name, though
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Ready for a lot of information about a forgettable game?

Star Force is a game I learned about by watching Game Center CX. It was phenomenally popular in Japan, but was barely a blip in the US. Most of this was a timing issue like how we've previously discussed with games like Hydlide. But the other part was that the game was the first in a series of SHMUPs promoted by Hudson Soft in their summer caravans, where kids would gather and compete for high scores. Star Force encourages this type of game play by stashing all sorts of bonus point triggers hidden within the stage layouts and enemy patterns.

The most famous one is a mid-boss enemy called Larios, a big octagonal ship. It first shows up as a little flashing box, and then the rest of the ship clamps in from four directions to form the whole thing. If you shoot down Larios normally, you get some points. BUT, if you shoot down the flashing box between the time it flashes once and the pieces fly together, you get 50,000 points and a big message pops up on the screen to tell you about it.

Star Force doesn't have autofire, so you have to mash A or B really frikkin' fast to trigger the bonus. Because of this, fast-firing became a big deal for kids who played the caravan games. The caravans were presented by Toshiyuki Takahashi, who later came to be known as Master Takahashi. Takahashi quickly became famous for being able to push a button 16 times per second. Hudson even released a special peripheral for the FC that would measure your firing speed, which Takahashi promoted:


Oh, also, you probably know Takahashi, because his likeness was used for the main character in the Adventure Island games.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


387. STRAFE

The same non-moving shooting game by Nice Code that we saw as Penta Base (#364).



388. TELETUBBIES

A Mario Brothers hack starring Tinky-Winky. (The character sprite-hack seems to be the only change.)

389. DANGER ZONE

I was not expecting this to be Adventure Island 2, but here we are. (There’s a Nice Code hack of Burbles called Danger Zone—that’s what I was expecting here.)



390. TENNIS

Tennis was one of the earliest games for the Famicom. I never played it as a kid and only recognize it from the WarioWare minigame. Apparently it’s included as part of Animal Crossing?



391. TOY STORY

A bootleg Bomberman hack. I’m not sure from the tiny sprite if you’re supposed to be Woody, Buzz or just a toy soldier. The Bootleg Games wiki thinks it’s Woody.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


392. TRIPLE JUMP

Yet another piece of Track & Field with the weird-looking dude. What exactly is up with the big-nosed, mop-top guy?



393. TWIN BOAR

A memory game (no title screen) where you need to match the boar picture in one of the boxes (you’re shown them briefly) with the boar running along the bottom of the screen. This is a Nice Code game also released as Twin Fish, Piranhas, Mask, and Twin Copters.



394. UFO RACE

3D racing around a flat track, as a UFO in space. It feels like a hack from the beginning—and it is; it’s F-1 Race (#329)—and apparently was on the Gun Fighter Famiclone device.



395. YIE AR KUNG FU


Dracula saw this one coming. It’s a one-on-one fighting game that feels like a predecessor to Street Fighter.



396. URBAN CHAMPION

And speaking of one-on-one fighting games! In this case, you’re beating each other up on a city street using boxing moves, with the added twist that people drop flowerpots on you from above, and you periodically have to pause the action while the cops drive by. I don’t think I’ve ever played this before, but I absolutely recognize the graphics. Probably from Nintendo Power?
 

Kzinssie

(she/her)
Urban Champion is probably the worst first-party NES game, but the cops driving by is a pretty funny touch. It should have an assist trophy in Smash
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Urban Champion is worth a play or two at least to see the personality Nintendo imbued into the game graphics, but it definitely feels like a holdover from the Atari era of game design, where you've seen nearly everything the game has to offer after the first ten minutes of gameplay.

Yie Ar Kung-fu is similar, but feels just a bit more meaty with its succession of opponents and their different fighting styles. The arcade version had even more variety, as I understand.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)
Is that character sprite from the NES version of Caveman Ugh-Lympics?
I don't think so? I just looked through various screenshots and a Youtube video of Caveman Games, and I didn't see anyone who looks like this guy.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


397. WIZZY

A hack of Formation Z (#331) that doesn’t change the title screen, but you transform into a dragon for the flying segments!



398. WRESTLE

This is MUSCLE (#63), and it’s still terrible.



399. ZIPPY RACE

You’re on a motorcycle, and you’re racing against cars (which try very hard to stay directly in front of you) but also have limited fuel. The graphics are a bit choppy; roads fork and disappear in odd ways. (I’m wondering if it’s a bad rom dump.) This game was released in the US as MotoRace USA.



400. MIRROR DEVIL WOR

A Nice Code game in their Nature Clan series, and functionally a clone of Kickle Cubicle. The mirror devils will shoot balls and fire at you, which you need to avoid while building a path to them.



401. MONSTER TRUCK RA

This is a much later NES cart than most of the games we’re seeing on here, and you can tell from the graphical style. The fake 3D makes certain parts of the track invisible, and you just have to guess from the marker flags that you can go in that direction up a ramp you can’t see.

Four hundred games! We’re in the home stretch!
 
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