Mega Man 2, NES

The 1988 sequel to Mega Man, Mega Man 2 is more of the same rock-hard platforming and shooting action on the Nintendo Entertainment System (aka the Famicom).

Your six major protagonists this time are: Bubble Man, Air Man, Quick Man, Heat Man, Wood Man, Metal Man, Flash Man, and Crash Man. And – as usual – each has their own themed level which you can choose from in the opening menu.

Defeat one of the bosses (not easy) and you get bestowed with a new-fangled power. And – believe me – having those extra powers helps!

Mega Man 2 is definitely more colourful and varied than the first game. There are some nice touches, like the foreground clouds moving over the playfield, and a proper intro, but ultimately it’s the same frustrating gameplay as before. Frustrating, but still enjoyable – and strangely compelling…

Of note is the soundtrack by Takashi Tateishi, which helps keep the game rolling along at a fast pace. I particularly like the song accompanying the Crash Man levels.

More: Mega Man 2 on Wikipedia

Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, ZX Spectrum

Software Creations made this Ghouls ‘N Ghosts conversion for US Gold in 1989. It has to be said that it resembles the original only superficially.

No surprises, but I still think better could have been made of it. The loading screen is probably the best part of this game… Never a good sign.

I think my biggest problem with it is the aiming system. I struggled with it the entire time. This is definitely not my favourite conversion of Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

More: Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on Wikipedia

Bank Buster, Atari ST

Programmed by M. Pezzotta and published by Methodic Solutions in 1988, Bank Buster is an obscure, single-player Arkanoid clone in which you break into a bank by tunnelling underground.

Bank Buster is a strange idea, but somehow works quite well. It certainly had me captivated for a few hours, even though my first impressions of the game were not that favourable.

Graphically, the game is adequate – arguably a little rough around the edges – but, gameplay-wise, it seems to have something compelling about it that isn’t easy to pinpoint.

The idea is to bounce a ball upwards into the underground soil, which removes it, eventually opening up a hole into the next screen. You then bounce the ball into the next screen and follow it, repeating the process until you reach the bank’s vault. “You” being a bat with a pair of eyes underneath (and in a nice touch the eyes constantly follow the position of the ball).

Like Arkanoid, the bat can collect power-ups to give it extra abilities, such as spawning extra balls, or allowing it to fire upwards. Unlike Arkanoid, this has various bank-robbing tools scattered around the various screens which you collect for points, and to open up previously locked doors.

When you near the vault itself, extra hazards start popping up, such as robots and alarm bells, and your ultimate aim is to avoid them and reach the treasures inside.

If you like bat and ball games, Bank Buster is worth searching out. It’s sufficiently different to other bat and ball games out there, and has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that makes it worth playing. Just don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

More: Bank Buster on Moby Games

Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov on Wikipedia

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Commodore 64

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is the 1988 successor to Maniac Mansion. Successor in the sense that it uses the same game engine and gameplay style, but does not exist in the same universe.

You play a jaded reporter called Zak McKracken who wakes one day after having a surreal dream involving aliens. This dream proves to have a profound effect on Zak’s life, and he meets another person – a girl, called Annie Larris – who’s also had the same dream.

As a graphic adventure game, Zak McKracken is noticeably more refined and complex than Maniac Mansion, although it might not appear that way initially. It takes some effort to reach the part of the game where four individual characters become playable. The game also contains a few situations where – if you do the wrong thing – you can’t complete it. So can be frustrating.

That said: I think Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is brilliantly designed and great fun to play. Especially with a walkthrough, because some of the puzzles are relatively difficult to solve.

Compared to other SCUMM games Zak McKracken seems less about conversations and more about puzzles, and item and money management. And, of course, travel. You have to get used to buying plane tickets in this game – if you can first find your credit card…

Still available to buy on Steam and GOG.com today, Zak McKracken is arguably better even than Maniac Mansion. It’s all a matter of taste.

More: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Wikipedia
Steam: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Steam
GOG.com: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on GOG.com

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Super Mario Bros. 3, NES

Of the three Super Mario Bros. games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, this 1988 release must surely rate as the best.

Directed by Takashi Tezuka and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. 3 really takes the Mario series to a whole new level, with new techniques, gimmicks, and secrets, as well as the usual high standard of finesse and charm.

Super Mario Bros. 3 forgets that Super Mario Bros. 2 ever existed and instead goes back to what made Super Mario Bros. so enjoyable to play. And that is: challenging, left to right-scrolling levels, and precise control over Mario (or Luigi – the two-player mode came back). In this game Mario could (for the first time) slide down slopes; pick up and throw special blocks; freely climb vines, and also fly, float, swim faster, and throw hammers (!) using collectable power-ups.

Individual levels form part of eight themed ‘worlds’, and a map allows you to choose which level to take on next (another new feature at the time), and although the game is still relatively linear it does at least give you the occasional alternative route. Plus: you can now see secret areas opening up on the main map, which is quite exciting (and something that we later saw expanded in the phenomenal Super Nintendo sequel to this, Super Mario World).

Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduces bonus mini-games into the mix and these allow the player to win extra lives or power-ups which can be used later during a level.

Playing it now, there is no doubting that Super Mario Bros. 3 is an amazing game that has stood the test of time well. In some respects it plays a bit like a prototype of the peerless Super Mario World, which indeed it is – a prototype of that game, albeit one that sold almost 20 million physical copies worldwide!

More: Super Mario Bros. 3 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, NES

The North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was controversial because it was not the same Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in Japan – it was a re-skinned game; made into a Mario game, because the Nintendo bigwigs thought the original was too difficult for western gamers.

And the result is the game you see here. It looks like Mario from a distance, but when you drill down to it, there are quite a few differences. In this there is no two-player option. Players can instead choose to play each stage as one of four different characters – Mario (of course), Luigi, Toad (the mushroom), and Princess Peach. Each character can run and jump, and climb, and do all the usual Mario-style actions, but they also each have a unique ability. Mario can jump the farthest; Luigi – the highest; Peach can float, and Toad can pick up items quickly.

Also unlike the previous game: the player can explore both left and right – as well as vertically – rather than being forced to always move left to right. Enemies are no longer beaten by jumping on them. Instead: they can be ridden on by jumping on them. And if you do want/need to beat them up you have to throw objects at them instead.

Super Mario Bros. 2 contains twenty different levels in total, spread over seven themed worlds. Each world has different enemies, plus a boss battle at the end.

Although this version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has since gone on to be regarded as a bit of a retro-gaming classic, it is easy to see why it garnered some criticism at the time. It does deviate from many of the Mario conventions we’ve come to recognise, although it does retain the precise controls, cute graphics, and charm of the Mario series as a whole, so is well worth a play.

More: Super Mario Bros. 2 on Wikipedia