Developer(s) – Color Dreams
Publisher(s) – Color Dreams & Hacker International
Programmer – Vance Kozik
Like many games of it’s kind, the most interesting thing about this game is it’s history. Back in the days of the NES, Nintendo included the 10-NES lockout chip inside the console to prevent developers from releasing unlicensed games for it. Regardless, there were a number of unlicensed games released for the NES, as development companies did find a way of circumventing the 10-NES chip. Perhaps the company who did this more than any other was Color Dreams. Amongst their NES repertoire was Menace Beach; one of their most well-known games, for it’s level of violence and mature content. But when Nintendo threatened to stop doing business with retailers who carried unlicensed NES games, Color Dreams renamed themselves Wisdom Tree, and then took to re-developing their games and selling them in Christian bookstores instead. Menace Beach was re-developed and renamed Sunday Funday, and toned down considerably; though there was a strong level of violence. But in my opinion, Menace Beach stands out more as being one of the first genuinely mature games on the NES.
Graphics – 7/10
The visuals are by some distance the best element that I can attribute to this game, since they were fairly advanced for the time. For example, the characters have black outlines for the most part, which effectively separates them from the scenery, which though may have been pioneered by Capcom with the Mega Man series, it still makes the game stand out somewhat from many others. There is also an unprecedented amount of variety in level design, as the last level in particular is set in Hell and the last boss is a demon.
Gameplay – 5.5/10
As for the gameplay, however, I found it extremely typical for what was being released for the NES at the time, as well as being typical of the type of game that Color Dreams would release back then. It’s a 2D side scroller, whereby the player must simply get from A to B without dying. And even then, there’s not a great amount of variety in it compared with many other Nintendo-licensed titles, such as Mario or Zelda. Plus, the fact that the main character rides around on a skateboard doesn’t have as much bearing on gameplay as it might sound like if the idea was presented on paper.
Controls – 10/10
I am happy, however, to say that there aren’t any issues with the game’s control scheme, which at the time at least, did seem fairly difficult for developers to execute, as many 2D platformers did have some issues with controls, such as Castlevania and Mega Man. Though riding on a skateboard doesn’t really make any kind of difference, the point is that the formula was done as well as it could have been, and the game is due credit for that, at least.
Lifespan – 6/10
Menace Beach can be made to last for just under half an hour, which was about the average lifespan for an NES game. Though it doesn’t last any longer than a game like Super Mario Bros or Mega Man, there’s nothing in gameplay which would suggest to me that it would or could be made to last any longer without players becoming bored of it, so to me, it’s just as well that it lasted as long as it did.
Storyline – 5.5/10
Also adding to the game’s typicality is it’s storyline. The main character is an unnamed skateboarder, who must rescue his girlfriend Bunny, who has been kidnapped by a gang led by a villain called Demon Dan. The most standout story element is the series of cutscenes played in between each level, whereby Bunny is tied to a table demeaning her boyfriend for not rescuing her faster, whilst her clothes are gradually falling off until she is left in her underwear. I think the inclusion of that element, similar to Killer is Dead, which I reviewed earlier this year, was a particularly cheap way to get players to continue with it, and can only be seen nowadays as being much less believable, since Menace has long since been graphically outdated.
Originality – 4/10
Although this game stands out for how violent it is for the time as well as including other mature elements and fairly advanced graphics, there’s not much else to distinguish it from others. It is a very typical NES game, which has the misfortune of not having the official Nintendo seal of quality.
Overall, I think Menace it worth one playthrough, but not really worth bothering with for any extended amount of time. Though Color Dreams did release quite a few 2D platformers for the NES, none of them really stand out in terms of gameplay to any great extent; and Menace Beach is no different.