Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday Night Rentals: Superman 64 and the Nerd of Hope


Hoooboy....where to start with this one?

Everything I can think of to say was likely said already somewhere else, and said in a hilarious way. Likely with lots of swearing too...

What better game to talk about for Independence Day Weekend than Superman 64? After all, Sups fights for truth, justice, and the American way right?....

Or does he fly about in circles all day like a drunk, endlessly attempting to navigate a maddening obstacle course within a minuscule amount of time? 

I think you know the answer.

Was this game a home run? As American as apple pie and baseball itself? Or does Superman 64, for the Nintendo 64 make the Justice League movie look good? (Just kidding, nothing can make that film look good, not even a Snyder Cut.)

Let's talk about the game, but also a little bit about the experience of renting bad games, and the one Nerd to rule them all...

Gameplay, Memories, and The Nerd of Hope:

Based off the popular animated series, The Adventures of Superman, Superman 64 follows our intrepid Kryptonian as he attempts to rescue his friends from a virtual reality world where they are imprisoned by Lex Luthor.  Now, as a fan of the show, I want to say I find the overall plot of the game terrible. If you have ever watched the show, which was phenomenal for the most part, you know that Luthor was usually more cunning and subtle than this contrived plan. Straight up kidnapping people, shoving them in a VR world, AND letting Sups know about it? This was more like something a lower tier villain like Toy Man might have done.

That aside, we all know by now the game had terrible control, an inane plot, and borderline cruel tasks requiring inhuman levels of precision. Getting through the first task--a course of rings that must be completed in under 2 minutes--is daunting to say the least. No punches pulled, no surrender or easy mode. Superman 64 just drops you straight into the mother of all gaming frying pans. To use a familiar meme, it's the Dark Souls of terrible retro games. The idea of completing this in one sitting, is laughable, and yet there are some people out there who can do just that, and do it in record time. If you've never done so before, watch a speed run of this game and you can see just how broken the game is from top to bottom as speed runners take advantage of every broken corner of this game. And there are many, many broken corners.  Yet it squarely falls under the retro game banner at this point in time, whether we like it or not. Feeling the warm fuzzies of nostalgia and member-berries yet?  You should, and let me tell you why.

One of the awesome things about renting games back in the 80s and 90s was as kids we had these collective experiences of picking up something new. Getting a brief, weekend's worth of playing a game almost always left us feeling emotions that were a mixture of excited, intense, and just plain joy at trying something new.  Superman 64 though has the distinction of being a game that everyone agrees was a terrible experience. We rented it back in the day, tried to play it, hated it, and returned it--bitter that our weekend had been wasted on such utter trash.  But I want to make a case that it is one of the best games ever made if for no other reason than it helped introduce me to the works of The Angry Video Game Nerd and to the collective experience of having played a terrible game back in the day. Before I get to that part, let's take a walk down memory lane.

Rental Memories:

Walking into a rental store, you never really knew whether what you were grabbing was a good or bad video game, and more importantly, whether or not you had just wasted a chunk of allowance money or summer job money. Yeah, there were game magazines that reviewed some stuff. But they couldn't cover it all, and it's not like you had a copy of Nintendo Power in your back pocket as you were wondering up and down the aisles, trying to pick something before your parents told you it was time to go. Sometimes, in those frantic moments before your mom or dad said something like, "If you can't decide then we could just leave without getting something," you would just grab the nearest game handy. Never go home without a game.
Sometimes you hit gold with Contra. Yeah, maybe you beat it already, but it was a blast, so why not do it again?  Or, it could go south and you could end up stuck for the whole weekend with a game that was total garbage--And oh wow, does Superman 64 ever fit that bill. Until about a decade ago, I never would have known I wasn't alone in thinking the game was trash. The fact was though, renting that game had actually made me a part of a collective video game experience of gamers across the world.  Not a good one, but an experience never the less.

I hated the game and I really, really, really tried to like it. 

When I was younger, if I couldn't play a game well when I rented it, most times I just chalked it up to me being lousy at that particular game. Blown to bits on the first level of Gradius? Sure. Smacked down by Dhalsim in Street Fighter? Yeah, that happens. Maybe I wasn't figuring out something basic. Maybe I needed to play more and develop the skills to play the game well. Maybe the copy I got was broken somehow. (Note: I've actually thought this was the case for a particular game, but that's a story for another time.) This time though I knew, I just knew that the game was fundamentally bad. In fact, it was so bad it made me wonder if other games from my slightly older systems, like the NES and the Sega, were bad as well, and I was too naive and too young at the time to realize it. I shrugged it off at the time, but the effect of renting such a terrible game stayed with me for a long while afterwards.

Cue James Rolfe AKA the Angry Video Game Nerd, or The Nerd if you prefer...

The Nerd of Hope:

The Angry Video Game Nerd (Web Video) - TV Tropes

I found out about The Nerd in a different way than most, and I want to give you a little backstory on it:

I was going through a pretty rough time in 2010. Previous years had been marked by poor health and a degenerative liver disease known as PSC. Mid-January of that year, I had been diagnosed with early signs of liver cancer and was bumped up pretty high on the transplant list. While getting regular time in front of radiation machine and low-level chemo treatments, I would play video games, read, watch movies; you know, do anything to pass the time and try to not obsess about what was going on. 

Problem was, I was rapidly running out of energy on a daily basis, and although I enjoyed playing games to pass the time, I really just spent most of my time half asleep or in a daze from my illness and treatments. My little sister suggested I try out a website called thatguywiththeglasses, the original home of the Nostalgia Critic, and watch some of the funny videos there to lift my spirits. This lead to me hopping over to Youtube to check out the various movie and game reviews as well. After some hopscotching around what we now think of as "old school" Youtube to see if I could find other funny reviews to lift my spirits, I discovered the Nerd and his review of the now infamous game. What a treasure that channel truly is, and what a blessing it was (and still is) to me.

What unfolded in The Nerd's roughly ten minute thrashing of Superman 64 was a comedy genius game review that still holds up a decade later. Sure he swears like drunken sailor at a bar holding a "Swear Like a Drunken Sailor Night," but in a weird way, that's part of the charm. Not only was he dropping F-bombs, but doing so while pointing out the basics of why Superman 64 was so terrible. It wasn't just that the game was being used as part of a comedy bit, there were legitimate criticisms wrapped up in it as well. From the stupid, endless ring levels, to the bad graphics, to the unending green fog surrounding the first stage--all of these horrible hallmarks of the game provided fodder for The Nerd. Each minute was funnier then the last culminating in a goofy, but fun green-screen tribute to Superman, complete with The Nerd saving the day by hurling his copy of the game into the sun. 

I laughed a lot, probably more than I had in a while, and I binged all his reviews over the next few days, and I've been fan ever since.

It was a great bit of levity that I needed in those dark times, and I want to give a shout out/thanks to James Rolfe for creating AVGN. His videos have always been a great pick me up when times are down, and I've enjoyed nearly every project he's done since. Heck, I'm not really into horror films, but his annual devotion to various horror films in the month of October convinced me to pick up some of the early Hammer horror films, such as the various Dracula movies starring Sir Christopher Lee. But I digress. It goes beyond just enjoying the misadventures of the Angry Video Game Nerd. It was great to know that not only was it okay to say that some of those older games didn't hold up, some of them were downright awful and unplayable. It was great to see him pick apart the game and layout reasons why. Everything he vented about was exactly the way I remember feeling about Superman 64 at the time. It was good to know that there were others out there who not only remembered playing the good games, the easy ones that came to mind like Contra, or Super Mario Bros., or Sonic the Hedgehog.--but also really remembered the bad ones like Total Recall, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde....and even Superman 64. 

Bad Games, Good Memories:
I remember nearly every game I've rented, both the fun ones and the dreadful ones. Sure, grousing about bad video games in this day and age is pretty easy to come by. Why, you could probably step out your front door right now, or visit a gamer forum, and find at least three people who left a harsh opinion *somewhere* online about the latest Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo game. What's unique about the criticisms and consternation that we had in the past was not only did we not have the ability to access games with a couple of button pushes and a download; but you more keenly felt it when a game was going bad on you. Sure, might have invited friends to hang out if you had a copy of something like Super Punch Out, but if you picked up a bad game, no way you would want others to know about your embarrassing mistake.

We worked hard to get those four or five bucks to get that game rental when our parents went to the video store. It was absolutely crushing as a kid to get home and find out that not only did the LJN movie based game you rented suck, but you had that thing for the whooooooooole weekend, no going back. It was your companion after school that Friday night, the first thing you did after Saturday Morning Cartoons, and for some of us it was the first thing we did after getting home from church on Sundays. You played that game you rented, even if it filled you with deep regret that you didn't just rent Bionic Commando for the 5th time. Yeah, there were times I was mentally kicking myself for having picked up a game I didn't like, that happened. 

Funny thing is, I sometimes laugh at myself now for having passed up renting certain games as a kid, only to have them be some of my favorite games now as an adult. Was Superman 64 a good game to play on a weekend? Not by a long shot. But it was so bad that it has to bring a smile to your face these days just thinking about it. Ask anyone these days what they think of as the worst game ever made and some may knee jerk say  E.T. for Atari. But for those of us who got a chance to rent games, and know about it, Superman 64 has a legacy that will live on.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Night Rentals: War Gods


War Gods was filmed before a live studio audience! Please do not attempt any of the stunts seen on War Gods, Midway Entertainment would like to remind you that what you see depicted is intended for mature audiences and entertainment purposes only....

Okay, so maybe that wasn't the intro for the game War Gods, but I do remember being entertained by playing this game when it was in a local arcade. It would blare out it's title in that overly enthusiastic Midway manner, sounding for all the world like the announcer for an action heavy game show. In any case, the real question now is whether the game lives up to the former hype that it bellowed from arcades back in the day; or was the port a case of Nintendo 64 burping out another dud, suitable for quick cancellation in our collective memories, not to be renewed for a further season, or brought back via reboot?


As the story for the game goes, in the distant past, a meteor know as "the ore" broke into 10 fragments and was scattered across the earth, only to be found by various humans who turned into powerful beings known as the War Gods. Each god is on a quest to find and defeat the other holders of the ore and become the most powerful being in the world...and it plays out pretty much how you'd expect.

Published by Midway and featuring a goofy cast of characters, War Gods feels every inch the lesser version of Mortal Kombat that you'd expect. 

How I wish this wasn't so...

The premise seems like it should be a cheesy good time, but after spending some time trying to re-familiarize myself with War Gods, I kept wishing that it was Mortal Kombat.

The controls themselves are fine and they get the job done. The 3D function to help you move around the arena at the time were, and still are, a mix of "nice idea who's time has yet to come." That said, it would have been possible to make this game feel clunky and phoned in (even further than it already is) if the tightness of the controls were not there, but I never once felt that the hits and punches my guy would take were anything other than my own lack of ability in the fighting game genre. Full disclosure--I'm terrible at fighting games. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy goofing around with them from time to time, and even when I'm getting walloped, I'm usually still having a bit of fun.

Games like Street Fighter and Streets of Rage have thrived because the controls have stayed the same so you know what to expect. I wanted to be able to dive right into the game, but found myself looking up special moves that seemed more along the lines of a complex baking recipe than something from a fighting game. I think this comes from the fact that the game has its clunky 3D system, and it is far too easy to mess up a combo. This left me continually frustrated rather than feeling like I was about to pull off something cool, and I ended up abandoning my attempts pretty early on. A few times I managed to actually perform a special move, but darned if I know what I did because my attempts to recreate it were fruitless.

Graphics and Style:

War Gods - YouTube

The biggest surprise here for me was the fact that the game was created by Midway. (Guess I didn't pay much attention to branding when it came to fighting games.) It's pretty obvious to me now though that they were trying to copycat themselves and create a new "battle to the death" fighting game. They attempted to spice things up by way of a "gods" motif. 

However, the only one of the characters that feels like a "pantheon of the gods" pick would be Anubis. The rest of the playable characters are an oddball assortment of knock offs of the Terminator, a generic gladiator, a kabuki fighter, and so on. When I picked this game up for reviewing, the only other fighter I could recall off the top of my head from the game, beyond Anubis, was Kabuki Joe. And I only remembered him because the name sounded like one of those goofy 80s action movies. (Which, if there was such a movie I'd watch in a heartbeat.)

The characters, like Kabuki Joe and Anubis, should have a certain eccentric appeal, but they just don't feel like there was much thought put into them, and so much of what they do feels like a not-quite-as-cool version of Mortal Kombat. Even some of their special moves feel like a rip off of the moves of more well known characters. Things like a version of Scorpion's spear throw and Kano's laser beam eye make an appearance, or at least that is what it looked like was hitting me... 

Anywho. The Graphics are what you would expect from a Nintendo 64 game that's poorly lit with 3D rendered characters. Slightly muddy, unpleasant backgrounds seem to be the norm, and if you turn out the lights and squint, then maybe you can look past how it feels. Now, this isn't to rag on the game for being of its time, but other games pulled the look off better?  (Noticing a theme here?) 

Music and Sound:

Honestly, the tracks of the game are pretty standard fare and very forgettable at that. Everything about the sound effects and soundtrack feels a little too paint by numbers. Yeah, it has some decent guitar riffs, but nothing about those riffs will stick with you the next day. Maybe others can get more out of the music then me, but I just wasn't as into it as I usually am when a game tries to offer up heavy metal music.  Now granted, not everything in every game should have to hold up outside of the level or area that it is created for--but when it gets bland, it can get really bland. Sure, there are bits that are appropriately dark sounding and such, but in a way the whole soundtrack felt forced and as cookie cutter as the rest of the game.

Memories and New Thoughts:

I wish while playing War Gods for this review that I had rediscovered a gem, something fun and familiar that I was finally getting around to playing again now that I had my own copy--and not just a vague memory of when I rented it in the proverbial land of "back in the day." The sad truth though is that War Gods just wasn't that good. Maybe the arcade experience was better than the Nintendo 64 port of the game, but as I was writing this my research led me to find out that because War Gods received such lukewarm reviews in the arcade when it came out, not many cabinets are out there, so the chances of me seeing if I would have preferred the cabinet to the port are slim.  All said, War Gods is not a terrible game, and it does have a thing or two that stuck with me over the years, but even nostalgia wasn't enough to pull this game beyond the vague feeling of, "Oh yeah, I remember War Gods."

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Friday Night Rentals: Dynowarz


I have a three-year-old son, so covering this particular game was inevitable. No, not the Thanos kind of inevitable, but inevitable all the same. I figure when I was a kid, I was into dinosaurs. It's kind of a right of passage when it comes to little boys. That and robots. And ninjas (likely those will be a future Friday Night Rentals, if not many of them). And other action things in general. But if you can fuse Dinosaurs AND robots, all the better. If they could have worked ninjas into this game, it would have blown minds. Still, fighting robot dinos wasn't a bad place to start. I remember having a good time playing Dynowarz as a kid, and not much beyond that. So, was Dynowarz still as good time when I picked it up again? Or are dinos and robots better left in the past?


In Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus...there's likely a complicated back story and premise that I won't pretend to know anything about. Seeing as I don't have a game manual, we're gonna stick with what you can generally glean just as if you rented it back in the day. Yeah. Yeah. I could look up the details, but is it really important if you were a kid renting this back in the day?

You are a space fighter who pilots a giant robot dinosaur with the goal of getting to an enemy base at the end of the level and destroying it before it destroys you. The game is fairly simple as you move from left to right battling other bots along the way. The jumps would be easy save for one little thing. This is not due to the gaps. (More on this later). There's not much variety from level to level when it comes to challenge or even layout, at least there wasn't for the three levels that I played through to help refresh my memory for this little review/trip down memory lane.  Not that it was dull playing mind you, just something about each level seemed fairly stripped down, even for an original NES game.

The real variety comes from the weapons your robo-dinosaur can get and power up along the way. Everything from a robo-fist that launches from your bot, to a bomb toss, to a basic blaster.  You level up your weapons by grabbing different power ups, but as soon as you grab a new power up, you lose the previous one. Meaning that you can get a blaster powered up to level 3, then accidentally grab a fist shot and be back at square one when it comes to your weaponry. It isn't a deal-breaker though. Each of the enemy robo-dinos you battle aren't too strong and they provide occasional energy power ups which make navigating a level satisfying and not frustrating. Once you get to the enemy base portion of the game, you disembark your robo-dino and go through a short base level to get to a blobish-looking boss that puts up little fight.  Overall, the challenge of the game just isn't there. Not that it isn't fun, just that the game isn't as difficult as it could be.

Except in one regard.

When you jump there's a momentary delay as your character, be it the dinobot or space guy, crouches and THEN jumps. It can making judging the timing of gaps difficult in a way that doesn't feel like the game intends it to be. I get that when you are leaping from one moving platform to the next there's supposed to be a bit of a challenge, but one would hope that it was born of the game feeling fair. Something about the oddity of the way your character jumps adds an artificial challenge that comes from the control itself and not the game. There are other games in that time and some in present day which have the weird crouch-then-jump thing and they manage to pull it off better. Dinowarz does not. Barring that, the game does offer you the chance to continue from the level that you die on and a code for each level, so even though there's the odd jumping mechanic and you don't have extra lives--the game still feels playable and not ridiculously hard. Sometimes this lack of difficulty makes it less interesting than it could be, but it is still fun overall.

Graphics and Style:

The brief cut scenes you see as you transition from space guy to robo-dino are pretty solid for the time. Digitized pictures of actors and movie sets never translated well in this era, but when it came to stylized cartoon images and brief cut scenes with or without minor animation, the NES was able to do it in a way that made a game feel a bit more epic. (See the entire Ninja Gaiden for more proof of this.)

As for the game itself, it isn't overly complex in the graphics department. Not that this is a knock against it, just that I wish Dynowarz could have added something extra. By using a starry background and having much of the adventure be in outer space/other planets, the game doesn't have to work too hard or do much in the way of parallax scrolling to give it a vague 3D feel. Going from the well rendered, kick-butt looking dino to this was a little bit of a let down, even back in the day. Again, I know the NES wasn't exactly a graphical powerhouse, just wish that for all the detail on the dino cut scene, the background could have had a little more going on.  Still, the colors are nice and the sprites are decently detailed for what you get.

Music and Sound:

Sometimes a game can have music and sound that doesn't fit, is terrible, or just has such average feel that you can forget it pretty quickly after playing. For Dynowarz, the sound effects are okay and the music has some decent beats that while not always memorable, are fun to listen to from time to time. I particularly like the Intro/Title screen music for it's continuous crescendo. It feels adventurous and exciting, while not being to over-the-top. I'd recommend hunting down the soundtrack on Youtube for some decent background tunes every now and then, but it is likely that you will forget them quickly or would have a hard time identifying a track from the game if it were in a shuffle of other games.

Memories and New Thoughts:

As I mentioned before, I vaguely remember enjoying Dynowarz as a kid.  When I played it so I could do this little slice of blogging nostalgia, I had fun again and most times that's enough. However, a new bit of joy and fun was added this time around as my little boy enjoyed watching me blast dinos as he called out the names of the various dinosaur robots from stegos to T-rex's. Most of the time my little boy will want me stop playing if I try to sneak in a little video game playing during the day. This time he was fine with it and wanted me to continue. I don't know if Dinowarz would be my first choice when doing some retro gaming or even as an introduction to retro gaming for my kids--but if it provides a gateway to introduce my little guy into the world of classic Nintendo, that's just fine by me.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Friday Night Rentals: Plok

This particular game has been a long time coming both for review, and for me personally. I think I have hoped to find Plok in the so-called "wild" of game hunting for several years now. While not the very first game that I started hoping to find either in the wild or at a local game swap, I think Plok has always occupied a corner of my mind. I remembered it as a fun, if somewhat oddball game that I rented several times and kept either hoping to beat or hoping to get fairly far along on.  After years of hunting I came across it at a garage sale and I could not have been happier.

So, after a long wait (much like my return to game blogging) I now have that chance to once more see whether my happy memories were right--or if I was about to get a cold dose of adult-hood reality.


You are Plok! A king with a flag obsession who rules over a small set of islands. One day he goes out to lounge and finds his beloved flag is stolen! Thus begins his epic quest to recover his beloved flag and punish those who stole it.  But is this really a game about recovering a flag? Or are there more nefarious schemes and an evil villain lurking in the shadows using the flag-theft as a distraction? Thus begins the, does this simple sounding quest give you a simple time? Well....


Plok offers a bigger challenge than I expected and was much, much harder than I recalled...yet I can't say it doesn't feel fair. There are a fair share of games on any given system--and the SNES is no exception--that have unreasonable difficulty with absurd hit boxes and barrages of endlessly respawning enemies who cheap-shot you at every turn.  I want to say despite getting battered and losing time and time again, I never felt like the game was cheap or had done me an unfair turn.

Okay, that's not totally true. There were a few times when logs and enemies literally dropped out of nowhere. Not to mention that there were several times along the first level/world where there are places where you needed to take blind faith leaps in order to get somewhere. Most times you will find a ledge, other times you will find yourself falling helplessly into the ocean with no recourse only to watch poor Plok hop in and out of the water, doomed to die. Also, collecting shells in the game and earning extra lives and a continue is an absolute must if you plan on ever beating the game. While getting those extra lives and a continue or two isn't impossible, the fact that you can get all the way through an area's levels, fight the boss and lose, and end up starting all over at the can feel a bit harsh for a game that looks like it is a bit on "kiddie" side.
With the ability to toss his arms and legs as weapons, Plok really sets itself apart from other platformers. By having your "ammo" limited to the limbs you have "on hand" so-to-speak. Because of this limitation, you have an extra layer of challenge. If you go crazy and toss your arms and legs too much--you basically turn into the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. However, rather than being an immobile stump, you can find your limbless torso bouncing and sliding itself into danger. It's a fun mechanic and, despite the aforementioned challenges of blind jumps, it forces you to strategize a little before you attack. There are power-ups along the way such as suits that allow you to fire a more traditional projectile weapon, and a saw blade that causes Plok to spin in the direction he is facing and cut through obstacles and enemies for a brief distance. Both of these things are limited in nature though, and do not take away from the core mechanic of the game.

Graphics and Style:

Published by Tradewest and developed by Software Creations, the game screams European design. I don't know why, but something about any game developed in Europe has a look and feel to it that just tells you where it came from. Likely it has to do with the use of bright colors and large sprites that really does it. Not that the overly large characters detract from the game play, but it does make it feel less like you are inhabiting a world where the characters are existing and living lives, and more like it is "just a game." That said, the vibrant colors work to Plok's advantage given the whimsical nature of a game where your main method of attack is to fling your appendages at enemies, power ups, and switches.

The animation cycles are fun and simple, and Plok himself is memorable design-wise for how uncomplicated he looks. I assume that his simple design likely comes from the fact that the designers wanted to make it easy to animate Plok when he throws his arms and legs. The big, bulging cartoon eyes on his head/cap do make cutesy expressions based on the environment and what is happening to Plok at the time, and many times during the game it felt like I was playing as a muppet. Expressive, yet simple.

Music and Sound:

Plok Main Theme

Composed by Tim Follin, the soundtrack does shine in the amount of whimsy and energy it gives to various stages and power ups. Fun and bouncy, with a little hint of country bop and rock and roll, the main theme of Plok is really where the soundtrack for Plok shines. It has such variety and pep to it, you can't help but do a little head bob along to it and smile. I am sorry to say that most of the rest of the tracks in the game did not stick with me. They weren't bad or mediocre, just in an already crowded field of games with memorable soundtracks (the SNES library alone is enough competition for anyone) it just didn't stick with me over the years like I would have preferred. Of course, games like Super Mario World and Super Metroid are hard to compete with, but I am listening to the music as I write this review, and it is good and worth putting on in the background separately from the game.

Memories and New Thoughts:

I don't know why I never asked for Plok as a gift or tried to save up allowance or tried to find some other way of picking up the game when I was a kid. I remember liking the game well enough and I DID rent it several times hoping each time that I would get a chance to get a little further than I had the previous rental time. It was a funny and charming back then and it still is today.

Like I said before, it was a real joy to find it at a garage sale a while ago, and I think this is one of the games in my collection that I am willing to pop in more often then some other titles. Maybe one day I'll manage to even beat it over a weekend, just like I had hoped to do when I was a kid. If you don't already own it, I'd say it is worth having in your collection and having a go at beating every now and again.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Night Rentals: American Gladiators

It's a double dose of nostalgia in this NES classic based on the popular TV show, American Gladiators. maybe "classic" NES game is a bit of stretch for American Gladiators, but the TV show definitely falls under the retro/old school banner. It has an aesthetic that mashes up elements of 80s WWF and possible precursors of our more modern obstacle course based game shows like Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior. So has the game held up over time? Or does it go down in the final round?

Game play:

Something about this particular layout of a select screen gives that Mega Man vibe every time I see it. I don't know if Capcom was the first to do it, but they sure made it feel like a thing. In any case, when you start the game, you can choose from five different events. Each one plays a little different and has their own unique challenges. I won't say that the events are terrible or poor to play, but there are some that are harder than others, and this can lead to an uneven experience when you play. For example, in the Powerball event, the goal is to get a ball into each of the five baskets. You get 10 points per basket scored, with an extra life or "event attempt" as a reward if you score in each basket. It's fun to dodge the gladiators as they attempt to run into you and knock the ball out of your hands. Simple enough, right?
Yep. Simple and fun. 
However, if you hop over to the Wall event, it's a different story. Your goal is to get to the top of the wall. Simple too, right? 
No. Not at all. 
In fact, between the gladiators coming from below to grab you and pull you off, and the ones that come from above and suicidally fling themselves off the wall in an effort to take you with them--this event is bonkers hard. 
I played this particular stage for almost a half an hour straight and never made it to the top. Not only are the gladiators themselves a threat, but the wall itself has a weird layout that finds you avoiding gaps, maneuvering around obstacles, and navigating narrow spaces. On top of this, there's a timer. Now, I won't go so far as to say that it is impossible or near impossible, or even unfair (although it feels like it at times). I will say it feels "fiddly" when you get to the narrow gaps and that it does ride the line between being "Nintendo Hard" and feeling stupidly unfair.

Graphics and Style:

The colors and character sprites are actually pretty decent given the time period, but I guess when you really only need to stick to some solid reds, whites, and blues to keep up with the "American" part of the American Gladiators theme, you can't go too wrong. The digitized pictures of the gladiators aren't half bad for the time, but if you're looking for the gladiators that you actually do battle with on screen to match up in any way with how they look on TV, you will be disappointed. The characters have a look to them which feels like something from a Double Dragon game, and the movement isn't half bad. Not that there is much demanded of them, but all and all, the graphics aren't half bad for a later NES game.

Music and Sound:

While the music itself has some sufficient action beats and energy, it just never stuck with me. I remember some really annoying NES tunes from back in the day along with the really good ones. I wanted to remember this one, but grappled with remembering it, in fact I forgot it a few hours after playing the game. See, if it was terrible, I'd probably remember it, but I don't.  I will say this though, the scream sound effect is pretty memorable:

Memories and New Thoughts:

I remember being a little annoyed at this game as a kid for a host of reasons that seem silly to me now. Stuff like, "The characters in the game don't look like the guys from TV," and "Why does the joust game have a buncha platforms and not just two like the TV show?" I think now that I'm grown up I can appreciate the fact that they were trying to pad the length of the games within the limitations of NES cart. And...well, looking back on it...I was probably just too young to realize that just because I loved the NES and the graphics were a huge step up from the Atari, it didn't mean that the games themselves could process fully rendered versions of my favorite gladiators like Nitro and Zap.

Having picked this game up for only $5 at a local video game swap meet, I don't feel like the price point was too low or too high on the game. While it does have points in it that are definitely in the category of "Nintendo Hard," I don't feel like the times that I lost were too cheap or due to ridiculously small hit boxes on the enemies while my own character had one the size of a body builder on steroids. I'd probably recommend picking it up, but only if you're in the same vague nostalgia mood that I was when I got my copy. Not that the American Gladiators on the NES is terrible, but maybe only good for a brief weekend of entertainment like it was for me back in the day.