Eight-Bit Junkyard

Rediscovering video games of the past
Winter Game Roundup

The wind threatens your breath and sanity as your bitter tears harden on your face. Your skin is cracked and brittle. In every direction you look, there is nothing but white. This is New England. This is February 2015. This could be worse. Much worse. There could be spike tanks. There could be pumpkin ghosts. There could be centipede women. With one more month of winter ahead, there’s still potential for all of these ills to befall us. I’m here to help you prepare.

There you are, an average fire-breathing, ex-circus strongman Russian treasure hunter. You simply want to collect your hidden gold and mystical artifacts and call it a day. But if “Karnov” (Data East, 1990) taught us anything, it’s this: make sure you’re fully stocked up on wings and mermaid tails. “Karnov” features a fourth level made up of dangerous snow caves full of murderous birds and evil pteranodons that want nothing more than your icy death. Luckily, Jinborov Karnovski has a utility belt that would rival Batman’s in both quantity and insanity. Spare ladders, bombs, boomerangs, and wings help Karnov traverse the never-ending deathtraps and augment his fire-breathing ability so he can fight off mad monks and, yes, centipede women. “Karnov” is so difficult that simply reaching the frozen doom of the fourth (of nine!) levels is a significant achievement to shoot for during an eternal winter.

Bill and Lance are trying to do what any best friends in the 26th century would do in their position: take down the Red Falcon Organization before they take over the world. To do so, Players 1 and 2 of “Contra” (Konami, 1987) have to fight their way through evil biome after evil biome. Five hundred years of climate change make it perfectly acceptable to find yourself in the snowy forests of level five immediately after slogging horizontally through the jungle and hopping madly up the vertical crags of a waterfall.

“Karnov” is so difficult that simply reaching the frozen doom of the fourth (of nine!) levels is a significant achievement to shoot for
during an eternal winter.

“Contra” offers a variety of weapon upgrades, and despite how awesome the flamethrower and laser gun look, you’d be wise to stick with the spread machine gun at all times. Especially when a tank covered in spikes comes rolling at you halfway through the winter not-so-wonderland. You’ll defeat the spike tank in the most obvious of ways: shoot it until it turns orange, then yellow, then pink, then green. Color-changing bullets are all the rage in the 26th century. Standing between you and level six’s Energy Zone is a giant space ship that shoots smaller space ships at you.

If fire-breathing and flamethrowers aren’t enough to warm your chilled winter bones, there’s always “Snow Bros.” (Capcom, 1990), a severely underrated “Bubble Bobble” clone that sets two human princes-turned-snowmen to saving their respective princesses while avoiding the deathly touch of a floating pumpkin-headed reaper.

The fourth world of “Super Mario Brothers 2” (Nintendo, 1988) features one of the slipperiest ice-based stages in video game history, while “Ice Climber” (Nintendo, 1985) gives you the one thing you need to make it to the vernal equinox: a polar bear in sunglasses and a pink bathing suit.