Nintendo Entertainment System
Game: American Gladiators
Year Released: 1991
Earlier this week, the second season of the recently-reborn American Gladiators came to an end with its thrilling championship. As a big fan of the show, both old and new, I was kind of sad to see it go, especially knowing that it will be awhile before the next season starts up. However, I then remembered the good news: I could see the original Gladiators in action any time I wanted! All I had to do was turn on my NES.
The NES version of American Gladiators came out at the same time that versions for newer systems Sega Genesis and SNES were released. As such, the 8-bit version is quite different from the others, with more limited graphical and gameplay capabilities. Still, the game is a solid representation of the show—straightforward and full of action. I only wish the developers had put as much thought to the controls and difficulty curve as they did the Gladiators’ smack talk.
The player begins at level one with five events to conquer: Powerball, Assault, Human Cannonball, Joust, and the Wall. I started out with Joust, although I found this mini-game different from the version on TV. The initial concept is the same: knock a Gladiator off of the platform with a giant jousting stick before he or she does the same to you. However, instead of one gladiator, there are up to four (depending on how quickly you can take them out), and you must jump from platform to platform to get to them in a way that resembles a platformer—definitely not what I expected to find here. Still, I didn’t have too many complaints about this event, other than the button-mashing hurting my hand.
The Wall, on the other hand, has got to be my least-favorite event in this game. As anyone who has seen the show knows, the player gets a brief head start climbing a giant rock wall before the Gladiators are unleashed. However, in this game, the Gladiators are the least of your problems. The controls are so wonky and annoying; you have to continually alternate between mashing A and B while using the D-pad to navigate bricks and seemingly invisible obstacles, which will make you fall. Also, the wall seems endless, much larger than it has ever been on television. I did not enjoy this at all.
Powerball, surprisingly, was the most accurate event in this game, and also one that I enjoyed. As the contender, you must pick up balls from either end of a long court and score points by dropping them in several barrels, all while three Gladiators try to block your path. Assault, on the other hand, reminded me more of Contra than American Gladiators. Instead of the small arena in which the contender tries to take out the Gladiator by shooting Nerf guns and tennis balls, the in-game Assault consisted of a much longer course, with a moving Gladiator capable of taking several hits. Human Cannonball, like Joust, was fairly simple--jump onto a swinging chain, execute a perfectly-timed jump, and knock the Gladiator off of his or her platform. Easier said than done, of course. Other than the Wall, none of the events were too painful to play, which surprised me considering how old this game is.
The soundtrack is typically NES, generic MIDI notes to accompany the 8-bit gameplay. Some of the sound effects are a little strange, such as the blood-curdling screams the Gladiators let out when you knock them off of their platforms in Joust. From an audio standpoint, nothing really stands out as being exceptional. Graphically, this is also the case. As a whole, American Gladiators is certainly passable, but obviously not pushing the NES to its limits in any way.
The most frustrating part about the game is that you must do each event four times, every round with increased difficulty if you want to make it to the Eliminator, the giant obstacle course found at the end of each episode of American Gladiators. The steep difficulty curve will probably force most gamers to quit in anger before even getting close to the end. By level four, the difficulty of the events, particularly the Wall, is just ludicrous. Also, doing those events over and over gets pretty repetitive. If the Eliminator was made available after beating each event once, the game would still be challenging, but it would cut down on aggravation.
Honestly, I would much rather be watching American Gladiators than playing the NES version, but right now I’ll take what I can get. I’d really love to see a new Gladiators game hit the XBLA or WiiWare, but unfortunately I can’t see that happening anytime soon. While American Gladiators for the NES isn’t a shining pinnacle of gaming perfection, it’s a fairly decent representation of the TV show that does offer some degree of entertainment. I guess it will have to do until Season Three hits the airwaves.