Welcome back for More Frustrating NES Moments! In this installment I take a quick look back at three of the toughest games ever made for the original Nintendo. I hope you'll have as much fun reading this as I did writing it!

Friday the 13th

There are many frustrating aspects to Friday the 13th, the chief among them regarding how you move your counselors from location to location. This is the side scrolling part of the game. Now take a look at the image of the game map I've include down below. Do you see how the cabins are spaced out, with different paths connecting the areas around the lake. Depending on your character's current location, you may need to head towards a cabin positioned to your right on the map, but you would actually need to move your character to the left on the screen! What the hell? Compounding this frustration is the fact you only have sixty seconds to reach the location of Jason's attack. Failure to do so results in the death of the counselor or group of children he's attacking.


How you obtain your weapons is another sore spot. With two notable exceptions, the weapons you pick up are completely random. They just appear without real rhyme or reason inside the cabin during the pseudo first-person mode, or somewhere on the screen in the side-scrolling portion. You can be walking along carrying a machete one moment, see a zombie and jump up to avoid him, and come down from the jump with a significantly less powerful dagger. You didn't want the dagger, and would normally go out of your way to avoid picking it up, but because it randomly populated on the screen mid-jump you are now stuck with it. Talk about frustrating!


Like I said, there are two notable exceptions to the weapons. You can get a pitchfork on the third day of the game by finding and defeating the disembodied head of Jason's mother, and a torch (best weapon in the game) by finding a lighter and using it to light all of the fireplaces in the large cabins. Just be careful with these - you wouldn't want to go through all the hard work of getting them and then suddenly lose them to a lesser weapon that randomly appeared on screen!

The last major complaint surrounds the actual encounters with Jason. You'll come across him in one of three ways. Inside one of the cabins in the pseudo first-person style mentioned above, during the side-scrolling portion while walking around the map, and while rowing across the lake. The side scrolling encounter isn't that bad, since you can't jump around him and throw your weapons with relative ease. However, the other two types of encounters suck.


Inside the cabin you have to fight Jason in a way similar in vein to Punch-Out! Jason will move left, right, forward and backwards trying to hit you. You have to dodge these hits by pressing the directional pad either down diagonally left or right. If the controls were as responsive as Punch-Out this wouldn't be an issue, but they're not. There is about a two second lag between the time you do the command, and the time your character performs it. You'll hit diagonally left to dodge, watch Jason smack you in the face once or twice, and then a second or later your character will finally bob his head left. With a lot of patience you can actually turn the sluggish response into an art-form, learning how quick in advance you need to perform the action to complete it at a given time.


The last type of encounter with Jason is by far the worst! When rowing your boat to and from the cabins on the lake Jason will sometimes zoom from one side of the screen to the other. When this happens you are guaranteed to take damage. There is nothing you can do to avoid him. Nothing! The best you can hope for is to get in a few pot shots on him as he crosses the screen. I have lost more than my fair share of Friday the 13th games because my last counselor was low on health and Jason was attacking the children at the lake. As soon as I heard the little 'Jason is attacking' alarm sound, and saw the blinking cabin at the lake, I knew I was pretty much screwed.


In Conclusion: Friday the 13th has taken many a beating in the years since its release. People have jumped all over it's shoddy controls, clunky game-play and hard as hell level of difficulty. They're right too. Friday the 13th has all of those flaws and then some. Like when, for example, did a zombie ever pop-up in one of the movie (Jason doesn't count) much less an endless horde of them? Still, the game isn't all that bad. Once you learn the timing of the controls and how to properly use your map and screen view to navigate, the game can be quite fun. Good game or bad though, it doesn't really matter. I grew up in an age of 8-bit video game systems and teen slasher flicks. Friday the 13th was my mecca. It combined two of the things I loved most as a child, and it will always hold a special place in my heart because of it.



Gunsmoke

The top-down scrolling shooter Gunsmoke was a game I loved to hate, and hated to love. It was both the yin and yang of my video game experiences. One moment I was having a blast wandering through town, putting lead into any of the filthy Wingates unfortunate enough to cross my path. The next moment I was chucking the controller across the room and calling the game the kind of names that would make a cowboy blush. Gunsmoke was a strangle little critter of a game indeed. Why what was it about Gunsmoke that invoked both emotions of pure joy and outright anger in me?


Obtaining the god damned wanted poster! At the end of each stage in Gunsmoke you'll encounter one of the more infamous members of the Wingates gang (the bosses). Only by confronting and ultimately bringing to justice each of these members will you be able to advance forward to the next stage of the game. One small problem though - you can't find these bosses without first obtaining the corresponding wanted poster for them. Without this wanted poster the boss will never appear, and the level will continue to repeat itself until you eventually die. So what's the problem? Obtaining the damn poster in the first place!

There are two ways in which to obtain the wanted posters. You can purchase the wanted poster outright from the general store for the low, low price of like $20,000 apiece. I believe one of them even goes as high as $50k. You get that? You have to pay the town fifty grand in order to hunt down and kill the men that have been terrorizing them! At those prices you'll be able to afford to buy one wanted poster for the entire game, two tops. Let me put this into perspective - killing the boss of the first level "Bandit Bill" will yield a cash reward of $10k if you manage to bring him down, half the purchase price of his wanted poster. No wonder the Wingates want to overrun this town so badly. This town has got to be rolling in the cash!


The second, and realistically your only real viable option for getting the wanted posters, is to find them at certain spots hidden in the level. Finding the posters this way isn't a easy task though - they are invisible until you shoot them. The fun doesn't stop there though! Since this game is a vertical scrolling shooter the screen is always moving you up (forward). You have very limited time on each section of screen. So if you are out of place when the wanted poster appears you're screwed until the next pass through the level.

Did I mention you have to do all of this while bullets keep whizzing past your head in every conceivable direction? Thankfully Gunsmoke is grounded in reality. You can find a rideable horse on each level. Your movement speed is increase while riding, and it will take two hits instead of one to bring you down. That's right. The Wingates gotta plug Mr. Ed in the head before they take you down! This makes finding and surviving long enough to get the wanted poster a tad easier. A tad.

The wanted poster ranks high on my list of all time annoying nuances found in a video game. Its what keeps me from considering Gunsmoke a bona fide classic shooter on the NES. It is both challenging and addicting. It's kind of sad now that I think about it. A very good game that people generally only remember for its one bad quality. If only they had just removed the wanted poster concept, and just let you fight the bosses in a normal manner...

Battletoads

I maintain to this day that the Battletoads could very well have been the next big video game franchise following in the footsteps of Super Mario Brothers and Castlevania. This game had it all - marketable heroes (TMNT were huge at the time), stylized graphics that at the time looked next-gen, and a great mix of action and humor. It was hyped to all hell, and deservedly so. Battletoads provided everything you could ask for in a video game. So why then didn't Battletoads take off and become this fantastically selling series that to this day continues to have new games produced under its title? That question can be answered in two simple words.

Turbo Tunnel.

In the third level of the game you are on the left side of the screen driving on speeder bike towards the right side of the screen. Keeping you from reaching the intended destination are a series of obstacles you have to avoid by jumping or dodging. The obstacles flash on the right side of the screen very briefly, and then they go flying across the screen at you. The whole level takes place at an insanely fast speed. You'll basically need to play the level enough times to memorize where all the object are, and then pray your finger speed and reaction time is enough to pull you through to the end. There are tough levels, and then there is this piece of gaming hell. There are few levels in the entire existence of video games that I feel challenge the difficulty of Turbo Tunnel.


Even to this day, with twenty plus years of gaming experience, I still can't get through this level without ripping some of the hairs out of my head. Now if this level is that frustrating to a seasoned gamer, can you imagine the impact it would have on an eight year old. The psychological ramifications are staggering! I can seriously see Turbo Tunnel leading some kid to eventually be found at the top of some bell tower weeping, taking shots are the people walking down below, and in between sobs screaming "Damn you Battletoads!"


Mind you the rest of the game isn't a cakewalk. Battletoads is tough, with or without Turbo Tunnel. I'm talking the respectable kind of tough here. The kind of tough game that leaves you satisfied and with a true feeling of accomplishment when you finally beat it. Instead, people reached level 3. Vrrooomm...SMASH! "Ha Ha Ha." Vrrooomm...SMASH! "Tee-Hee. I did it again." Vrrooomm...SMASH! "Hmmm." Vrrooomm...Smash! "Doh!" Vrrooomm...SMASH! "Mother F..."


Unfortunately the franchise never reached its true potential. Oh sure, there were sequels made and several crossovers done with other established titles, but those all felt fake to me. Like the company refused to give up on a potential cash cow. Shame too because I firmly believe that had the level of difficulty on Turbo Tunnel, and honestly the entire game in general, been toned down more players would have stuck with the franchise. Instead most of us reached level 3, gave it a few go arounds before saying "forget this!", and walked away from the series without ever looking back.

Fin

That about wraps up the latest go around here at Retro Junk. I'd like to thank everyone for your continued support!