Title: Super Dodge Ball
Release Dates: July 26, 1988 (Japan) / June 1989 (North America)
Developer: Techmos Japan
Publisher: Techmos Japan (Japan) / CSG Imagesoft (North America)
Players: One or Two Players
Originally released in 1987 in Japan as an arcade game entitled Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu, Super Dodge Ball is the second game in the Kunio-Kun video game series developed by Technos Japan.
Other games in the Kunio-Kun series which will be familiar to most North American retro gamers for their NES ports are Renegade (the first in the series), River City Ransom, and Nintendo World Cup.
Other games in the Kunio-Kun series which will be familiar to most North American retro gamers for their NES ports are Renegade (the first in the series), River City Ransom, and Nintendo World Cup.
As for the Nintendo Entertainment System port of Super Dodge Ball released in North America in June 1989, it’s a bit different than both the original arcade release and the Famicom release of the game from just under a year prior.
The North American NES port of Super Dodge Ball, for one, eliminates storyline references to Renegade which were included in the Famicom port of the title. The Famicom version of the game also has different playable teams, different cut scenes, and actually features the U.S. team as the opponent for your final World Cup match instead of the Soviet Union.
Also, the NES version provides a deeper gameplay experience than the original arcade game with the addition of special moves, two more teams, detailed stats for each player, and an added “Bean Ball” mode.
So, how does the North American port of Super Dodge Ball hold up nowadays? For the most part, pretty dang well!
The core gameplay of Super Dodge Ball is six-on-six dodge ball goodness. Each team has three players within their side of a rectangular dodge ball court. The other three players surround the opposing team’s side and can be used as invincible attackers who can attack from close-up when the ball’s passed to them.
The object of each match in Super Dodge Ball is to eliminate (well, kill) the other team’s three inner court players by striking them silly with the dodge ball. Each individual player has a life bar which is drained accordingly to how hard they’re struck by the ball.
Once a player’s life bar is fully drained, the player vanishes and an angel rises up and off the screen presumably taking their cartoony soul to a better place.
What really gives Super Dodge Ball its replay value is how well the controls are pulled off despite the simplicity of the NES controller’s two-button + directional pad setup.
When your team has control of the ball, one button passes and the other unleashes a shot directed at your opponents. You can increase the power of these shots with double taps of the left and right directional button.
Each of your players can also unleash two special power shots (one while running and one while performing a running jump) which goes much faster than a normal shot and does crazy damage on direct hits.
Jumping is pulled off by pressing both the B and A button, but it can be very tricky to control either when trying to pull off a shot or to evade an opposing shot.
When your team is on defense, one button is used to attempt to intercept an opposing throw while the other is used to duck.
Put all of this together and add all of the angles you can make throws from with the help of your three off-court players and you have an entertaining game which turns simple controls into seemingly endless possibilities.
There are three modes to choose from in Super Dodge Ball – a single-player World Cup mode, a traditional Versus mode for two players, and a Bean Ball mode for one or two players.
Those who aren’t interested in playing as the USA may not like being forced to use them in World Cup mode, but the fun of beating the eight other countries in brightly-colored locales more than makes up for it. There’s even some added pitfalls in Kenya (mud which slows you down) and Iceland (slippery ice, of course) to add to the variance and difficulty.
The two-player versus mode allows players to choose any of the nine countries from World Cup mode, including the option of playing as the same team.
While you can customize the formation of your players for an added strategy boost, it’s disappointing that there’s just one versus court to use and no way to unlock the courts you travel to in World Cup mode.
As for Bean Ball mode, it’s a free-for-all among the six members of the USA team. One or two players can choose their desired USA player and the other five or four are controlled by the computer. Players can freely roam in this mode and attack at will. The last player standing is declared the winner.
Although there’s just one schoolyard court, the time of day changes based on the difficulty level you choose for Bean Ball – Easy is set during the day, Normal occurs in the evening, and Difficult takes place in the dead of night.
Bean Ball is an entertaining cherry on top of the awesome Super Dodge Ball sundae.
There are some gripes to be had, however...
One of the complaints which gamers tend to have about Super Dodge Ball is that the game’s sprites flicker way too much.
However, a good deal of the glitchy flickering is actually there on purpose. The player who is flickering on the opposite side of the ball is the player who is currently being targeted by the attacking team.
Truthfully there’s also a fair amount of sprite slowdown and some flickering not associated with this, so it can be confusing and many don’t understand that it’s part of the game.
Because of the aforementioned flickering on top of flickering, some power shots will disappear from sight and reappear randomly on the other side of the court. It usually happens when multiple animations are occurring and the ball basically hiccups off and onto the screen.
As for codes in Super Dodge Ball, there’s only one to speak of.
If you want to play against a mirrored version of your team, you first need to beat the Russian team in World Cup mode without any of your players eliminated. As soon as you complete your victory, press A & B simultaneously.
If you time this right, you’ll immediately start a game against an exact mirror of your own team.
While Nintendo World Cup tends to be the first of the Kunio-Kun North American ports on retro gamers’ lips, Super Dodge Ball is rarely far behind.
The game’s unique blend of exaggerated animation and singular gameplay struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic, selling healthy numbers of cartridges and spawning multiple variations and sequels.
In addition to the aforementioned arcade original and NES/Famicom ports, there’s also a Japan-only version for the X68000 (1988) which is an arcade-perfect port that adds parallax scrolling and a stereo soundtrack.
The PC Engine also received a Japan-only port of the game in 1990 which is much more akin to the NES version and adds a single-player quest mode where you can replace players from your team with the captains of your rivals.
Sixteen years later, an emulation of the original arcade version of Super Dodge Ball was released in Japan by Hamster as a title in their Ore-tachi no Gēsen Zoku series.
As for the story of Super Dodge Ball sequels, well it’s an odd one.
Before Technos Japan went out of business, they released two Japan-only sequels – Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu: Kyōteki! Dodge Soldier no Maki (Game Boy, 1991) and Kunio-kun no Dodgeball da yo Zen'in Shūgō (Super Famicom, 1993).
Right before Technos Japan shuttered its doors in 1996, they released a true sequel for Neo Geo simply called Super Dodge Ball. However, no home console version was completed and only limited quantities of the arcade cabinet were released as the company folded during their initial distribution process.
This wasn’t the end for Super Dodge Ball, however.
Five years later in 2001, the folks over at Million (which employed former Technos employees) released Super Dodge Ball Advance for the Game Boy Advance. It’s not officially recognized as a true Kunio-kun title in Japan, however, despite similar gameplay mechanics and music.
A sequel to this sequel called Super Dodgeball Brawlers was released for the Nintendo DS in 2008 by Arc System Works and Aksys Games.
Making this even weirder and harder to follow, there is River City Dodgeball All-Stars!! which is an unofficial 2007 hobbyist title for the PC crafted by another group of former Technos employees who called themselves the Miracle Kidz.
The game was released for the Xbox 360 in 2009 as Downtown Smash Dodgeball, and 2011 version (dubbed Downtown Nekketsu Dodgeball) was released by Miracle Kidz as a WiiWare title.
Strangely enough, the Wii version is the only of the three Miracle Kidz Dodgeball games sanctioned by Million – a company which doesn’t even actually own the rights to the original Super Dodge Ball.
In short, Super Dodge Ball is so beloved that there’s a built-in market for unofficial sequels and offshoots as long as the core entertainment of the gameplay remains in place.
Getting past the flickering and periodic slowdown may not be possible for some, but it’s not distracting enough to write Super Dodge Ball off.
The action is fast, strategy is paramount, and there’s enough cheeky humor and gameplay depth to appeal to gamers of all kinds.
Super Dodge Ball is flawed, but not too flawed to be great.
Overall Score: 8 out of 10
Release Dates: December 18, 1987 (Japan) / January 22, 1988 (North America)
Developer: Data East
Publisher: Data East
Players: One or Two Players Alternating
Debuting in arcades in early 1987, Data East’s Karnov was the company’s attempt at fashioning a parallel to Nintendo’s success with Mario as the pixelated face of its gaming ventures.
In place of a mustachioed plumber is Jinborov Karnovski, or Karnov – a fire-breathing Soviet Union former circus strongman with zero fear of danger and a penchant for collecting mythic treasures. Oddly and amusingly enough, a later interview with a Data East employee revealed an anonymous company manager as the aesthetic prototype for the game’s lead character.
The game’s designers created Karnov in his image without his prior knowledge, leading to a reported tirade/tantrum by the anonymous manager when he found out.
A platformer closer to the run-and-gun stylings of Contra than the run-and-jump motif of Super Mario Brothers, Karnov was an overall arcade success which vexed many a gamer with its difficulty. However, arcade patrons kept feeding quarters into the machines and thus prompted Data East to begin conversion plans for various consoles and home computers.
In addition to its NES/Famicom port, Karnov was ported with varying faithfulness to the arcade version for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, IBM PC, and Classic Mac OS.
The Japanese release of Karnov for the Famicom was carried out under the Namco banner on December 18, 1987. Just over a month later, Data East would take the reins themselves for the North American release of the game – a version which vastly differs from the Japanese Famicom port both in terms of storyline and overall difficulty.
With the NES/Famicom ports of Karnov, Data East threw its hat into the ring in hopes of garnering some measure of the critical acclaim and commercial success of the booming Super Mario Bros franchise.
While retrospect may deem Data East’s plans for Karnov as a failure, the game has found its footing as a cult favorite that’s hardly been forgotten.
Ever wanted to take down a T-Rex solely with the fiery belches of an East Russian circus freak?
Karnov is the game for you!
Karnov pits the game’s namesake strongman against a variety of mythical creatures and off-the-wall baddies over the course of nine extremely short levels. A run-and-gun platformer which replaces gun play with the aforementioned incendiary indigestion, Karnov allows you to run, jump, climb, and shoot your way through its cast of eclectic evildoers.
The problem with most versions of Karnov is balance. Rather than giving each enemy a nuanced skill set for a player to counterbalance with an intuitive approach, Karnov simply rains enemies and their accompanying firepower down on you like a monsoon of primary colored sprites.
Luckily for North American players, the NES port of Karnov dialed this down a bit and forgives inevitable missteps with unlimited continues (unlike the Famicom version).
Furthermore, it takes two hits to die in the North American port as opposed to one in the Japanese version. After one hit, Karnov becomes draped in a blue hue to clue you in that you’re one mistake away from death. You can pick up a blue fireball orb power-up to boost your health back to 100%.
Power-ups are the real equalizer in Karnov. Red orbs allow you to boost your fireball power up to three projectiles at one time. There also Option power-ups which do anything from speeding up your character’s swimming ability to giving you a one-shot giant flame to torch anything in your path.
The North American port includes a Spike Bomb (in place of the Super Fireball) which can be used at a key moment to clear every enemy on the screen.
The varied powerup goodies range from extremely handy to meh, but at times they can be rendered moot by the game’s sticky jump controls. You’ll have everything in place and be ready to jump over danger and then the jump button becomes a glorified paperweight and you’re dead.
It’s not pervasive and you can get past that, and Karnov is pretty dang charming once you do. The levels are quick, but the bosses are fun including the final three-headed dragon which replaces the sadistic Wizard from the Japanese port.
Karnov doesn’t look the best nor does its sound effects and music really linger in the memory. However, its real value comes in its chaotic gameplay and the damage your little Soviet strongman can do once you get settled in.
The Nintendo Entertainment System port of Karnov has three useful in-game cheats for the enterprising gamer.
The first is a doozy, an easy level select trick which allows a player to choose any level between 1 and 9 from the title screen and go from there. To pull it off, hold right, Select, A, and B on controller 1 at the same time. While doing so, press A on controller 2 the corresponding amount of times to the level you want to start at. Finally, press Start and voila! Russian warp zone!
If you’re in an untenable situation in the game and want to start over from the previous respawning spot, press A & B at any time on controller 2 to kill Karnov dead.
Finally, there’s a way to access underground areas below in-game ladders without playing by the rules of basic physics. At the bottom of any non-inventory ladder in the game, press left or right and down over and over. If there’s an area to be accessed below, you’ll slowly move through the floor and down into that area!
The Famicom version’s inclusion of limited continues can only be accessed as an unlisted cheat at the game over screen. When the character on screen stops talking, hold Select down and press Start right away. If you time this right, you’ll pick up a continue! This cheat can only be used three times, but it’s better than nothing.
If you’ve got a Game Genie peripheral handy or are using the add-on for your emulator, there’s also a virtual cookie jar full of glorious cheat codes to utilize. These codes are as follows:
Unlimited Lives – SXKISXVK
Start Game With 1 Life – AAOSIAZA + AESIVTZA
Start Game With 6 Lives – IAOSIAZA + IESIVTZA
Start Game With 9 Lives – AAOSIAZE + AESIVTZE
Can’t Lose Most Items – AEOKSYPA
Add 3 Items Of Most Types – LEEGOYPA
Freeze In-Game Timer – GZVZNIVG
Start Game On Level 2 – PAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 3 – ZAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 4 – LAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 5 – GAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 6 – IAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 7 – TAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 8 – YAUSAAAA
Start Game On Level 9 – AAUSAAAE
The story of Karnov didn’t end with the cultural paradigm shift that some Data East executives may have been looking for, but that’s not to say that Karnov didn’t leave an indelible imprint.
In fact, the game reached a healthy 250,000 overall copies sold before the end of the 1980s – not a number for any game developer to scoff at.
Acclaimed to this day by some who champion it as an overlooked Nintendo Entertainment System gem, the North American NES port of Karnov remains a solid critical favorite thanks to its balanced difficulty level and the relative tightness of its gameplay mechanics compared to other ports of the title.
While some bemoan the censorship of the Japanese version’s heavy religious storyline overtones, the word-of-mouth reputation of Karnov’s NES port keeps it as a sought-after commodity in ROM and cartridge form.
(In truth, it’s pretty hard to find Karnov as an NES cartridge. If you do, though, you can likely pick it for three to five dollars from the right spot!)
Karnov has no true sequel, but the titular character has had quite a career of cameos since the game’s release.
Data East’s affection for the Soviet fire-spitting musclehead has led to his inclusion in three games as a normal enemy (Trio The Punch – Never Forget Me, Tumblepop, Garyo Retsuden), one game as both a boss and a silhouetted version of himself (Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja), and one fighting game as the M. Bison-esque final opponent (Fighter’s History).
Karnov also makes a random-as-heck appearance in the NeoGeo game Street Slam wearing a shirt with the letter “K” emblazoned on it.
Add in a couple more oddball cameos (I Wanna Be The Guy, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse) and an unofficial homage/cameo as a boss character (Big Karnak) and Karnov’s influence becomes clear.
It’s not the most well-known or even influential title, but Karnov has earned a healthy measure of good will amongst retro gamers and game developers alike.
The jumping controls are unresponsive at times and the graphics are rudimentary even by 1980s standards, but Karnov largely outstrips its flaws with constant action and an undeniable pick-up-and-play fun factor.
Much more forgiving than its Japanese counterpart, the NES port of Karnov offers a breezy playthrough perfect for platformer completists and those just looking for a damn good time.
Overall Score: 7 out of 10
Title: Double Dribble
Release Dates: July 24, 1987 (Japan) / September 1987 (North America) / 1988 (Europe)
Players: One or Two
Originally released in Japanese arcades as Exciting Basket in 1986, Double Dribble was Konami’s second attempt at bringing the nuance of the basketball experience to arcades.
The first was a dud, Super Basketball, which left Konami’s video game developers wanting much more out of their next foray onto the (arcade) hardwood.
Double Dribble fared much better and became a solid arcade hit throughout the world, providing a more true-to-form basketball playthrough while adding some impressive animation quirks – most notably, the slam dunk cut scenes which zoom close up on your player as your soar towards the rim.
In addition, Double Dribble also upped the sports presentation ante by serving as the first arcade game of any kind to feature the United States national anthem.
The game itself was fluid enough and fun enough to lead to concerted public interest in a Famicom/Nintendo port.
By mid-1987, the Famicom/Nintendo had many of the world’s major sports covered with a game or multiple representative games in its library.
However, basketball had yet to find its way onto the system in the four years since the Famicom’s release (and two years since its release in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System).
Konami rectified the glaring omission by releasing its Famicom port to Japanese consumers in late July of 1987 as Exciting Basket. North American Nintendo lovers would only have to wait just over a month for the game to hit shelves as Double Dribble.
While the Nintendo/Famicom port isn’t arcade perfect and has its flaws, Double Dribble is still usually the first game on retro gamer’s tongues when talking about basketball games on the system.
Whether that’s due to pure nostalgia or just the simple fact that it was the first basketball game released for the console, Double Dribble’s historical cache cannot be denied.
From a presentation standpoint, Double Dribble was well ahead of its time for a 1987 Nintendo release.
The cinematic lead-in to the game is extremely impressive for the limitations of the hardware and extra touches like goofy dancing mascots and the appearance of a Konami blimp (!) give this game a unique gravitas which holds up to this day.
Avid NBA fans may be disappointed by Double Dribble’s lack of a proper NBA license, but they’ll also likely be amused by Konami’s blatant attempt to skirt copyrighting issues with the inclusion of the red-clad Chicago Ox in lieu of using the actual Chicago Bulls name.
In fact, the other three included teams all use similar color palettes to the NBA teams they’re intended to mimic.
So, you’ll know who you’re playing with as the Boston Frogs (Celtics), Los Angeles Breakers (Lakers), or New York Eagles (Knicks) without actually playing as those teams.
There is really no customization to be had except for setting quarter lengths anywhere from five to thirty minutes and dictating the computer skill level.
Furthermore, playing against the computer will limit your team choices to three as it appears the AI is the biggest Boston Frogs fan of them all and always picks them.
Thankfully, Bostonians can get their Frogs fix in two-player mode which is truly the gem of this NES port anyways.
The gameplay, however, hasn’t aged with the same fine wine kind of feel.
The game has some canyon-sized holes for you to navigate around, and that’s putting it with a bit of mild sauce on top.
Slam dunks are nearly impossible to pull off with regularity.
In addition, the two-second lag between starting your dunk in game and the animated cut scene of your dunk will start to grate on you as you play longer.
In fact, there’s really no use shooting the ball anywhere except from the free throw line and the upper/lower corners of the screen from three.
Shots from anywhere else range from impossible to hit to random flips of a coin.
Shots from the free throw line and upper corner go in almost automatically.
That would kill the challenge of playing against the computer if this game didn’t hate your guts and decide that you should never have nice things ever (especially on level 3).
Your punishment for taking a relatively healthy lead on the computer is the appearance of a CPU juggernaut which steals the ball at will and makes shots from everywhere.
Perhaps this was Konami’s way of making up for the gameplay’s hackable shot patterning, but the problem is the computer’s revenge tour won’t let up once it takes the lead.
You’re screwed unless you can hit your spots without fail.
The two-player game is much more satisfying, but there’s still not a ton of meat on the bone from a gameplay perspective.
The simple button controls for shooting and blocking are nice enough, but oftentimes it feels like the game is playing you instead of the other way around.
This is never more apparent than when you take control of one player in the frontcourt and your teammates either come along or decide to heck with it and stay in the backcourt being useless.
And while the animation of the players is well ahead of its time for a 1987 release, the sprite flickers with all ten players on the screen can be a bit of a struggle to play through.
In truth, Double Dribble’s gameplay experience is flawed even for its time.
It’s buoyed by the cinematic presentation and impressive graphical experience overall, but the meat and potatoes of things may leave you wanting some three decades or so after its NES/Famicom release.
If you want to cause some good old-fashioned structural damage, start a one-player game as Chicago and work to get possession of the ball. Once you do, stride over to the foul line and press Start to pause the game.
With the game paused, press A, B, A, B, Start, Start. Afterwards, quickly execute a dunk or a normal shot. If you time this right, the backboard will completely shatter in a YouTube highlight moment before the age of YouTube.
We’ve already enumerated on the shot glitches within the game, but there’s also an easy way to get possession of the ball at tip off. When the tip is thrown up, let your opponent go up for the ball and gain possession. While they’re still in the air, jump up and you’ll easily steal the ball away from them in midair.
For those using the Game Genie cheat peripheral in its original form or via emulator, there are a couple of unbeatable codes for those looking to get a leg up on the computer. They are as follows:
Computer score never increases – KNEKPKEN
Each computer score adds to your score – KNEKPKEY
For all of its flaws, the Famicom/NES port of Double Dribble still captured the zeitgeist in a way that most other sports games from the time can’t exactly claim – so much so that Family Guy even spoofed the game’s automatic corner three-pointers in a cutaway which also included Tecmo Super Bowl.
In addition to being one of the first NES or arcade games to include true cut scenes, Double Dribble is also one of the first Nintendo Entertainment System titles to use speech. While garbled, you can still make out the computerized recitation of the game’s title and various other speech affects throughout the game.
Double Dribble’s success as an NES/Famicom release led Konami to release three home computer ports in 1990 for MS-DOS, the Commodore 64, and the Commodore Amiga.
The game’s first portable version came in 1991 with the release of the okayish Double Dribble 5 on 5 for the Nintendo Game Boy.
1994 saw the release of a next-generation sequel of sorts for the Sega Genesis, Double Dribble: Playoff Edition. The Double Dribble name is absent for European and Japanese releases of the game, however, as it’s simply dubbed Hyperdunk for releases outside of the North American market.
The last Double Dribble release is its first and only for mobile devices (so far). Double Dribble Fast Break appeared for iOS devices in 2010 and was met with mixed reviews and little fanfare.
If you want to play the original NES Double Dribble but don’t want to mess with emulators or find the original cartridge, you can download it off the Nintendo Virtual Console. It’s a good port of the NES/Famicom version without the pervading slowdown issues of the original.
First doesn’t mean best, and that’s pretty apparent with Double Dribble. The nostalgia factor can’t be denied, but the gameplay itself is broken at worst and flawed at best.
Sports games rarely age well with a handful of exceptions, and Double Dribble falls in line as a title which was passable in its time but should be passed on nowadays.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 10