Friday Flashback Five: Week of April 01, 1990

Time again for the Friday Flashback Five, where we look back at games that debuted this week in history and the effect they may or may not have had on us.  This isn’t a “top” list of really great games—there might be a stinker or three in here somewhere.  It’s just a look back.  This week, as some of us in the United States “celebrate” Tax Day, we’re going back to before many modern gamers were even born—the first week of April, Nineteen-Ninety.  That’s twenty-one years ago.  (Due to a miscalculation on my part, this is obviously a week behind; it should have been the week of the Eighth, but I didn’t catch it until the last minute.  I apologize for the error, and promise it won’t happen again.)

A good few games came out that week, so let’s get right to it, shall we?  As usual, this list is in no particular order.  With that in mind, our first entry is…

Double Dare
Released for the N.E.S., it was the video game version of the popular show on Nickelodeon.  The show was fun, goopy, and the first game show specifically targeted to kids.

The game was—rudimentary, at best, and frustratingly mind-numbing at worst.  Button-mashing was what got you through the obstacle course at the end, the physical challenges were rather difficult, and most of the questions asked were almost insultingly easy.  It would be one of the titles to start the stereotype of licensed games being disappointing at best.

Ghostbusters II
Another one for the N.E.S., and based on the film of the same title.  And another one that seemed determined to drive the very concept of licensed gaming as far into the ground as possible.  The level design was repetitive, the difficulty cranked up way too much (no pause feature, some scenes scrolling left, and no health meter—and those are the complimentary features), and it was, over all, nowhere near as fun as its predecessor.

There’s really not a whole lot else to say—it was a terrible game, one that left a bitter taste in the mouths of gamers who were expecting something more.

This one for the Game Boy, developed and published by Konami.  Part of the Gradius series, it was the first entry on the Game Boy.  This was generally considered to be a better game, and it even had some unique elements for the time.

Unsurprisingly, given the developer, the famous Konami Code worked, and it had the one-time-per-game effect of completely powering up your ship.

Phantom Fighter
Another one for the N.E.S., and, somewhat surprisingly, one of the few games to not be set in Japan or the United States.  Developed by Pony Canyon, an incredibly prolific company, the game sees you take the role of Kenchi, who must rid China’s villages of demon-zombie-things.

It was pretty decent for its time, featuring graphics that pushed the system, sound that wasn’t too repetitive, and while it may not stand up to a franchise like Final Fantasy, it wasn’t the worst game out there, either.  There’s a lot more that could be said about it—and handily enough, someone did say it.

Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road
Based on the arcade game with same name, this N.E.S. title was developed by Rare Ltd., another prolific company.  The arcade version was insanely good fun—you got to drive one of three souped-up off-road trucks around a course with similar obstacles you’d see if you saw a race live.

This is one of those titles that may not be immediately familiar to gamers, but when reminded, many will regale you with tales of spending quarter after quarter on it in their local arcade.  Sure, you had your fighting games and those were definitely fun—but this was fun of a different sort.  Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

When it was brought to the N.E.S., it became almost solely a game to play with your friends.  The graphics were simplistic even by the N.E.S.’ standards, but it kept the “upgrade” feature, which was one of the first times this sort of thing had been seen.  After you won a race, you could spend your money on making your truck better—making it accelerate faster, buying more nitrous boosts, and so on.

All in all it was a pretty good title for the time, a faithful enough version of the arcade game that ate so many of our quarters, and was especially fun to play with friends.


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