Retronomicon: Evercade Namco #1 Review

I’m going to talk about the Evercade carts again.

It’s been a long time since I reviewed the first Evercade cartridge, and now that the number of carts has ballooned to two hundred thousand with a new cartridge releasing roughly every six nanoseconds, and very low likelihood of me putting a discernible amount of work into my YouTube channel, I came to the conclusion that my options were either never catch up to the Evercade releases, or put the reviews out in written form on this website.

So I chose the latter. Reviewing Evercade carts is something I like to do for people who don’t particularly have the wide-range nostalgia. If you’re looking for that fix of Dig Dug or Mappy, my reviews are probably useless since your only concern is whether the games run well. They all do, everything I have played on the Evercade so far runs butter smooth, granted being the Famicom ports of those arcade games.

Instead I’m going to go down each game and talk about its general quality as a game, for someone who is playing it today and doesn’t particularly have nostalgic feelings for it. At the end I will tally up my keep/pass and see how the cart fares.

1. Battle Cars

Battle Cars sucks. Picture if you can a substandard ripoff of F-Zero on the SNES and then create a substandard ripoff of that, and you’ve got something close to Battle Cars. The Super Nintendo had some great racing games on it; F-Zero and Mario Kart being two. Developed by Malibu Interactive, the extent of Battle Cars consists of nine levels with two race tracks per level. There’s an abysmally small selection of three cars, yet for some reason numerous color swaps of each. It doesn’t matter, all of the cars act the same.

F-Zero has fantastic controls and smooth gameplay. Battle Cars does not. Super Mario Kart has streamlined weapons that are easy and fun to fire. Battle Cars does not. What Battle Cars has is shoddy controls, shoddy music, shoddy everything. The weapons suck, the story has more work put into it than the whole rest of the game, and honestly I’m going to go on a limb here and say this will be the worst game on the cartridge.

Verdict: Pass

2. Dig Dug

If you’re picking up the Evercade and looking at the Namco cartridge, odds are at least one of the reasons you’re here is for Dig Dug. The 1985 release date tells me that this is the NES/Famicom version which runs fine. Dig Dug is a port of the arcade game and holds over a lot of the values from the arcade; gobbling your quarters or at least it would if there was a quarter slot.

So the result is a stupidly difficult game that only gets more stupidly difficult as you rack up points and complete levels. The whole purpose is to get through the level by isolating and pumping various creatures until they explode from being pumped. Eventually you get into overlapping enemies, enemies that move faster, more enemies on screen. You have to pick your fights because this is one of those “get touched and you die” type of games.

Dig Dug also happens to have charm out the eyeballs. Particularly iconic to the game is how the music plays and stops when your character moves and stops. Enemies start straight up cheating as they can at whim float through solid ground and eventually just start swarming you from all sides with no ability to escape. The worst aspect of Dig Dug is the massive grid system that movement takes place on. In a game where you need precise controls, moving down when you press left can end a session real quick.

Verdict: Keep

3. Galaxian

Galaxian feels like someone asked the question “what if we emulated Space Invaders but on crack?” Galaxian is a 2D shooter for sadomasochists. As with most games in the Evercade collection, this is the Famicom port which really doesn’t have much in the way of downgrades from the original arcade edition.

It’s disappointing coming to this from Dig Dug which had a great soundtrack. Galaxian’s sounds are a mishmash of ear-splitting screams including a really grating imitation of Woody Woodpecker’s laugh at the start. The sounds for the rest of the game are your garden variety screeches, the kind that boomers from the arcade generation will think sound as soothing as puppies and waterfalls.

Galaxian is the Roshambo of arcade games and I say that knowing there are plenty of people out there who find a game of getting kicked in the balls both fun and fulfilling. But when you take out the competitive aspect of seeing your name on the highscores and knowing you’re at least better at it than other kids in the neighborhood, the game becomes a lot less fun.

Galaxian is hard, stupidly hard even for an arcade game. Enemies move way too fast, get afforded too many shots, and your ship moves far too slow and fires too slow for the kind of shooting and suicide bombing you’re meant to avoid. The sequel to Galaxian, Galaga, is legions ahead in terms of quality. Due to its frustrating controls and difficulty even by arcade standards, I’m giving this one a pass since for most people it’ll be a play-it-once game on the cartridge.

Verdict: Pass

4. Libble Rabble

Finally some good video games.

If Dig Dug is checkers, Libble Rabble is four dimensional chess played on a holodeck. I love Libble Rabble. The premise of the game is that the player controls two arrows held together by a rope. The game board is a collection of pegs that you use to rope off and trap little mushroom creatures. Trap all the mushroom creatures and move on to the next stage. Also avoid the bad guys who want to kill you and stop you.

All too often we hear that “you’ve never played a game like this” in marketing, but I can almost guarantee you’ve never played a game like this. Libble Rabble is one of those titles that starts off almost impenetrably difficult because of the control scheme where you control one character with the d-pad and the other with the abxy buttons. The need to control both characters while dodging enemies and roping them off is overwhelming at first and will lead to quite a few game overs with nothing accomplished the first time you play.

But Libble Rabble is also one of those games where eventually the controls just click and your brain “gets it.” After that it becomes muscle memory and instinct, keeping track of your arrows as you navigate each level. It’s tough, but in terms of arcade games it is quite fair in its difficulty. I never got those feelings like the game just arbitrarily screwed me as a leftover from when that would mean coughing up another coin.

Unsurprisingly this game was created by Nobuyuki Ohnogi, the creator of Pac Man. I think this is the first release of the game outside of Japan.

Verdict: Keep

5. Mappy

Oh Mappy you’re so fine. Mappy is another arcade port of a game that feels less like an arcade game. Mappy is an arcade platformer game where you play a mouse cop and you have to raid the house of a cat and confiscate evidence. That’s not a lie.

This is accomplished by running around a big house full of separated floors and trampolines. You have to avoid the Meowkies by using the trampolines dotting the level, and to complete each level you just have to collect all of the stolen goods. Every item has a different value, so there is an element of strategy in what order you collect to maximize your points. Doors are an important strategy as they open one way and anyone caught on the other side is temporarily stunned, or for the flashing doors gets taken out for a short period.

The AI in Mappy is pretty smart and the game runs partially on the system of getting you frantic enough to screw up. Enemies track you down pretty well and maneuver to close you in, while some of the cats can hide behind items in a way that is easy to spot if you’re keeping an eye out.

Players are also limited in that you must touch down on solid ground otherwise the trampoline will snap after a few jumps and you’ll go down with it. Jumping off immediately resets any trampolines you were bouncing on. You are invulnerable to the touch of the cats while bouncing on the trampoline, and you can even fake out enemies by jumping off then hopping back on to misdirect them.

Just like Libble Rabble, Mappy is an arcade game without the arcade-tier frustration or unfairness.

Verdict: Keep

6. Mappy Kids

Mappy Kids is another game that never came out in the west and while it’s definitely something to play as a historical title, the game itself is rather…crap. Mappy Kids comes from 1989, an era of really mediocre Mario Bros. ripoffs. It changes from Mappy’s arcade style to long-form platforming and really there’s nothing wrong with those outside of their simplicity. Mappy Kids is dead easy with its platforming segments.

But I’ve never quite seen a non-arcade port game that has as much contempt for the player’s time and efforts as Mappy Kids. Mappy Kids is a side scroller ala Mario Bros where the player goes from one end of the map to the other, collecting coins and opening chests to get more money. You play as Mappy Jr. who wants to buy stuff for his house so he can impress and marry his future bride. As we all do.

At the end of the first level I wound up with 40,000 Yen. Upon finishing the level I get a slot machine that determines what I will win. The first roll I hit three skulls and lose 20,000 Yen. Second roll I get 100 Yen, but I have to beat a mini-game in order to actually get the reward. I lost 20,000 Yen for hitting the wrong spot but the right spot nets me a potential 100 Yen. Cue the mini-game, a flag raising game that makes absolutely no sense. I lose, and the game takes away another 20,000 Yen as penalty.

I lost forty grand for the potential to earn 100 bucks, and got sent to the store where I could afford nothing for my future wife.

Mappy Kids is punishing for the sake of punishing, with less of a carrot-on-a-stick approach and more no carrot on a stick the game uses to stab you in the eyes with. The end-of-level stuff stands in such stark contrast to the rest of the game and really ruins the experience. You play through the level accumulating goods only to be beaten and robbed in the 11th hour and dumped to a screen where you can’t afford anything.

Now Mappy Kids never got ported to the west, and I’m fairly certain this has more to do with the complex cartridge board that made it more expensive and complicated to produce. Nintendo had the right idea not bringing Mario Bros 2. to the west as it was extremely difficult and wouldn’t be received well, and the few western outlets that did look at the game absolutely hated it. Giving Mappy Kids to a child to play feels like it should legitimately be considered a form of psychological abuse.

Verdict: Pass

7. Metal Marines

The very concept of a SNES real time strategy game hurts my heart. Metal Marines is definitely a game. One that is perhaps too complicated for the Super Nintendo, but a game with quality and heart and one that if you want to take the time to master it could be very good. I don’t want to take that time.

But I’m not going to crap on it for that. Metal Marines is an RTS game where you deploy facilities on your island meant to defend from enemy attacks from another island, while deploying your own attacks. It’s a strategy of balancing your offense and defense while managing resources and deciding what to build and where to strike. It’s the type of game that has no functioning tutorial.

Verdict: Keep

8. Pac Man

It’s Pac Man.

Verdict: Keep

9. Quad Challenge

A Mega Drive game, Quad Challenge is an off-road ATV racer and a port of the arcade title Four Trax. Quad Challenge is a hard game to review because right now the Evercade doesn’t have multiplayer. Presumably multiplayer will work with the Evercade Vs home console coming out later this year, since to the best of my knowledge games with multiplayer have retained their multiplayer in these carts for future use.

But Quad Challenge is a hard-ass game. It’s one of those “first of its kind” titles that spearheaded a genre that didn’t exist at the time. There’s a lot of challenge in the game as you manage your shift, your throttle, your speed, and your turning to navigate the course intelligently and with grace. You can mess up very easily and once you get going it becomes a lot more enjoyable.

I don’t love Quad Challenge, but I like Quad Challenge and I enjoyed it. It’s one of those fun games you get frustrated at, but frustrated in a good way that makes you want to keep playing and get better. When it finally hits the Evercade Vs and you can play it with real people, it’ll be even better.

Verdict: Keep

10. Star Luster

Holy cannoli. Star Luster is really a game in a league of its own on the Evercade cart. Star Luster is a first person space shooter that simulates a three dimensional space world, where your job is to go around shooting the space bad guys and stopping them from space blowing up your space bases and space planets. Space.

It’s really cool, and really freaking difficult to get the hang of. The facsimile three dimensional world is butter smooth, thanks in part to most of the screen being black background. It can be difficult to navigate the idea of evasive maneuvers when handling a two dimensional ship in a fake 3D world, but you get the hang of it.

Where Star Luster gets hard is managing the 8×8 grid universe. It really throws you into the action as well, and thankfully there is an easy mode. You have to be efficient even at medium difficulty to manage your ship, conserve your energy, not get blown up, and destroy the enemies hopefully before they blow up your ship. Reviews of the Famicom release point to the game being too complicated for the system, that being one Nintendo was advertising primarily to children. I agree with this assessment.

But since the Evercade is mostly going to be used by adults (I assume), that’s not an issue.

Verdict: Keep

11. Xevious

Xevious is a top down scrolling shooter and I don’t have much to say about it as it’s a genre people are well enough familiar with to know if they’ll love or hate it. For as much of a commercial success that it was in Japan, it bombed in the US harder than a spaghetti meal at prom.

You go through levels shooting at basic objects by firing your lasers with A and your ground bombs with B. It’s as simple and clean as it gets. Xevious is a keeper, but a tentative one. It isn’t fancy, it won’t thrill you, it’s a functional product that does what it says it does.

Verdict: Keep


So let’s tally the score. The Namco Arcade Cartridge #1 has 11 games, and of those 11 games I gave a keep score to 8. So an 8/11 score, or 72% of the cartridge is worth playing. Not bad, not bad at all. Definitely not bad for the $20 this cartridge costs, having eight playable (in my opinion) titles.

Tune in next time when I talk about the Data East Collection #1. There are 18 cartridges out for the Evercade, and by this Friday there will no doubt be thirty more released.