Color Dreams are an abysmal developer. Just… just awful. They developed a total of NINETEEN games for the NES, and among them some of the worst-developed pieces of flaming turd-splatter ever seen in the 8-bit generation. Most of their games were terrible platformers based off a run-and-gun template with miserable controls and pathetic firing rates (Raid 2020, RoboDemons, Castle of Deceit) or a 2D beat-em-up engine with awful hit detection and ridiculous enemy AI (Challenge of the Dragon, Operation Secret Storm, Menace Beach). They even published a game that another developer adapted from the same horrible run-and-gun game (Moon Ranger) which, along with Secret Scout in the Temple of Demise, ranks as their worst published effort. Ugly graphics and jarring, unpleasant musical trainwrecks are the signature calling card. But were they all bad? Well… certainly none are particularly good, nor are satisfying plays from beginning to end, and they all exhibit some poor design, but there are a few that are worth trying, at least. And here they are…
5) BABY BOOMER
Ah, Baby Boomer. Such an oddity. Out of the many Zapper games on the NES, this one is probably the most conceptually unique of them all. You play as an unseen guardian angel to Boomer, the crawling baby who moves at a constant speed through the level, and kill bats, birds, bugs, rockets, devils and indescribable objects that are all hell-bent on killing the baby. It’s nice to have a controller option, guiding a crosshair around the screen in lieu of a Zapper, since I can’t play any games with the peripheral.
One hit from anything kills Boomer, and in addition to the creatures that walk and fly straight at the poor baby, there’s a host of dynamite, rockpiles, signs and more littering the floor, all of which have to be shot to ensure a safe path for the poor baby, and there are pits around where you need to shoot clouds and random objects above the holes to drop a snowflake that freezes over the gap. Hey, it’s Color Dreams, it doesn’t have to make sense. Boomer travels through a park, a graveyard, in the clouds, through Hell, a cave of rapidly appearing enemies, a crypt, a mine and an area where you crawl over the water of fountains. Sounds like he’s having quite a rough day.
Hit detection is pretty forgiving, with the ability to shoot an enemy that’s barely within the crosshair, and only a few enemies move in the developer’s trademark ridiculous patterns. Just like Adventure Island, there’s a health bar that’s constantly ticking down, based on the amount of milk that Boomer has, but there’s enough bottles around that keeping it filled isn’t too much of a problem. Yellow bottles turn Boomer a sickly shade of olive, but grants him invincibility from the enemies.
The basic gameplay could have been a lot of fun if there weren’t a great deal of problems, but since this is a Color Dreams game, there are – I’ll wait for the shock to wear off. Enemies can kill Boomer without looking like he touched them, so even if they’re several pixels away, Boomer will start crying and lose a life as the “nyah-nyah” death jingle plays. The amount of trial-and-error is irritating: shoot one of the torches and it’ll drop a snowflake, while another that looks the same will produce a deadly flame, some clouds drop snowflakes and some don’t, the raining clouds have to be repeatedly shot until Boomer’s past them and if you wait too long he’ll die, and enemies can come from just about anywhere. Graphics are basic but not appalling, but the music is shrill and annoying and the sound effects absolutely horrible. It’s a game that’s only worth playing for novelty, and even then only if you don’t expect to get very far. But that’s Color Dreams for ya!
4) CAPTAIN COMIC: THE ADVENTURE
Captain Comic was a PC game in 1988, and Color Dreams put it onto the NES with the help of original developer Michael Denio in 1989. It’s a platformer, and considering Color Dreams’ usual quality for the genre, one could be forgiven for expecting the usual: horrible controls that feel like blowing a piece of paper across the screen, worthless attacks, low framerate, enemies that can barely be hurt, constant cheap hits, amateurish level design, miserable graphics, maddening, squeaky music and an all-around sense of pointlessness. I’m pleased to report that Captain Comic only contains a couple of those! The controls are a little on the slippery side, but jumping feels good and platforming isn’t too troublesome. The graphics are simple but quite pleasing, with smooth scrolling and animation that’s well above the dreaded developer’s usual standard. Pleasant classical music plays throughout the game, and the sound effects are average and don’t feature the clamourous, robotic noises, bangs and zips that most of Color Dreams’ games have.
As for the gameplay itself: you, sir, are Captain Comic, a doofy-lookin’ spaceman in an unusually pink spacesuit, jumping over worms and avoiding birds. Walk far enough to the right of the first level and you get a can of Blastola Cola that gives you your first bullet. You only get one on-screen at a time with this cola, but if you collect more, you can increase the amount of bullets by one up to a maximum of four, with a good firing rate. Holding the B button turbo-fires, but if you hold it too long, your blaster gets worn-out and you have to let go to fill up your gun energy. The game is a non-linear, exploratory adventure, with many new abilities to pick up along the way, with the ultimate goal being to collect the treasures of Osmic (groan). You have to go into doors after collecting the key, and there’s little direction, but it’s not hard to find the “easiest” way through the game after some trial-and-error. The game doesn’t seem to have anything to do with comics, really.
At first, the enemies are overwhelming. Dodging three fast-flying birds at once while jumping over green worms is a tough task, and you can’t duck and shoot to hit the worms, leaving the jump as your only way to avoid taking damage. There’s no post-hit invincibility, so if two enemies hit you a split-second apart, you take two hits. You have nine hits before you die, five lives and no continues, with the occasional shield to restore life, lightning shield for temporary invincibility and unlimited firepower, and treasures and goblets to increase the amount of lives. With all of this riding against the overburdened Captain, conserving the life-bar for as long as possible is vital, as is avoiding pits especially when on full health. The amount of low-lying enemies is too high, especially when getting to an area with little ceiling clearance, and all of the enemies are as fast and furious as Vin Diesel. You have to get through one of these areas, a lengthy test of patience, in order to pick up the corkscrew that turns your straight-firing bullets into a zig-zag pattern that can hit them. Other items include boots that allow high jumping, a lantern to explore dark areas, and a wand to teleport through the game, but I never found any of them as I couldn’t get anywhere close to beating the game.
So, is Captain Comic a good game? No, it isn’t. The difficulty is overpowering, there’s too much cheapness and the exploration is only fun when it’s possible to get further than the last attempt, which is rare. But there are good ideas here, the production values are decent, and it’s worth looking at to see how not-terrible a Color Dreams platformer could be if they’d tried harder and not based so many of their games on one of two awful engines. That’s Color Dreams for ya!
3) JOSHUA AND THE BATTLE OF JERICHO
I could have picked this, Exodus or Crystal Mines, and I wasn’t going to put more than one on the list because they’re all essentially the same pseudo-Boulder Dash puzzle game. Shoot out blocks of mud, make rocks fall on enemies, shoot enemies, lay down bombs, upgrade your gun’s firing capabilities, gain temporary powerups, collect a certain amount of objects to open up the exit and go to the next level to do the same. Joshua is the best of all of them because it has turbo-firing by default, rocks that take more than one hit to destroy visually react to each hit and it has the most powerups of the three. The graphics are plain and dark but not bad, the sampled sounds are impressive for this amateurish game developer and there’s almost no music. Some may see that as a negative, but c’mon, nobody needs to hear Color Dreams music.
On first glance, the game isn’t unique, but deep down it is, if only for the lengths Wisdom Tree go to in order to BS their way into a connection to the Bible. The bible questions are here as usual, but the rest is related to the good book by way of naming level elements like a ten-year-old caught in a lie and scrambling to have an answer for everything. Allow me to demonstrate:
“This is just a puzzle game! It has nothing to do with the Bible at all!”
“Uh, yes it does… you see, the miner is Joshua from the Bible… and he’s making his way through the dirt- uh… Israelite Discontent and… and… Achan’s Sin!”
“Sure. Whatever you say. How about these treasures?”
“You see… the Lord sent Joshua to collect these treasures… to teach him… Bible!”
“And the Boulder Dash boulders. You can’t explain that one away, surely?”
“…Pieces of Jericho and boundaries of enemy cities!”
“I give up.”
“I think I convinced him – I almost convinced myself!”
The manual is a glorious mess of pseudo-theology and worth a read for that alone, but without the Biblical overtones, it’s still a competent enough puzzle game. As a longtime fan of Chip’s Challenge and Boulder Dash, I appreciate games where you have to react and counter level hazards in a game like this. Powerups include extending the range and number of Joshua’s trumpet toots, temporary ability to fire notes that tear through the dirt, immunity to bombs, super speed, and shovelling ability. Collect five surprised faces and enough treasure to get to the exit, and along the way, you’ll have to get through some terrain that has to be crossed with bombs, enemies that have to be crushed by rocks, rocks that have to be blown up or tooted to death, and any number of hazards that have to be figured out. Although it’s hard and bland compared to more sophisticated puzzle games, it’s not bad overall and does have some puzzle strategy necessary to get through the levels. For that alone, it’s well above the standard one would expect, but that’s Wisdom Tree for ya!
2) SPIRITUAL WARFARE
It’s often said that Spiritual Warfare is a rip-off of Legend of Zelda, but let’s be clear: pretty much all Color Dreams games are rip-offs. Raid 2020 is Narc, RoboDemons is Ghosts ’n’ Goblins, Crystal Mines and its derivatives are Boulder Dash, Bible Adventures is Mario 2, Castle of Deceit is Little Nemo and most of the others rip something off conceptually or mechanically. So Spiritual Warfare is no worse for it than the others, and in fact it’s better because of the efforts it goes to to rip it off faithfully. Spiritual Warfare has a lot of good ideas in its gameplay, even if few are their own. You know what Color Dreams creating its own idea is like? Operation Secret Storm. Big difference.
And indeed, this is Wisdom Tree’s finest effort. It’s playable and somewhat fun, which are both rare characteristics from this company. Spiritual Warfare is essentially the game design of Legend of Zelda, but plays like Joshua. You are tasked with finding pieces of the Armour of God, in preparation for the final showdown with Satan, and along the way collect doves for currency, vials that act as bombs, and explore a huge, non-linear present-day city. You use fruits as weapons, starting with the pear that has limited range, and gradually accumulate more weapons in the apple (very slow but long range and destroys some obstacles), pomegranate (zigzag pattern), grapes (three-way spread) and banana (full range and fast). Throwing these fruits at enemies can make them drop doves and hearts to fill up the life-bar, or if you’re unlucky, a demon will come out and get you unless you hit him too.
The enemies are a mixed bag: tough guys with knives, graffiti guys, gang members with guns and people attempting to blow up buildings are definitely sinners, but you also throw faith and salvation at bar patrons, businessmen, builders, and people just leaving their houses. If you did that in real life, you’d be a massive arsehole! Not to mention that if there’s a turf war and one of the gangsters is “saved” mid-fight, they’re brown bread. But this is a game, so it’s just pixels on pixels. As for the actual gameplay, exploring the cities is fun and they’re full of dead ends, secrets and doors to go into. Getting into each area of the city (from innocuous locales like the park to unsafe parts like the prison) requires a lot of looking around, and some can only be accessed with extra items, so you’ll be safe from the hard terrain of the beach until you’re ready to fight.
You find shops to buy fruits and rooms with extra heart containers in rather puzzle-like environments. The bosses are also rather puzzle-like, with the second in a room of ever-changing walls you have to get through and blow him up three times and the third dropping bombs at you that can be directed into the walls to clear a path to the door. Get through those and you’ll be rewarded with the ability to spew more faith in the bastards’ faces. You can get a boomerang (aka Samson’s Jawbone) to retrieve dropped items and eventually a sword to fight enemies with. I rather enjoyed it for the most part, and it wasn’t until the fifth boss that I thought “Fuck this, I’m not playing this anymore”. Of course, they never made a game that’s fun to play from beginning to end, but that’s Color Dreams for ya!
1) P’RADIKUS CONFLICT
So if Spiritual Warfare is a ripoff of The Legend of Zelda in terms of game design, P’Radikus Conflict is a ripoff of Elite. Zelda is one of the most popular games of all time, while Elite’s following is fervent but small, so it’s obvious why that comparison would fly over people’s heads. Oh, and for the fact that Spiritual Warfare is notorious as a Bible-themed game while almost nobody has played P’Radikus Conflict. It’s not an accessible title by any means, and it’s easy to find it directionless, there’s an ambitious gameplay structure reminiscent of the exploratory space shooter from 1984.
As the game starts, you’re a spaceship that can move and shoot in sixteen directions and travel around a planetary system of six locations and infrequent enemies. Controls are like Asteroids, with a momentum-based floating movement system where Left and Right turn, Up boosts the rockets and Down brakes. Enemies tend to wiggle around the screen and try to crash into the player, and some shoot. On the map, red circles are friendly planets, X symbols represent bases, white circles are stars with no resources, and lilac circles are stars that can be skimmed for fuel. Arriving at one of these locations and pressing Select lands on them, at which point you can buy supplies and upgrades from friendly planets and bases, refuel from stars or attack enemy bases and planets.
Aside from free star fuel, everything costs money to obtain. Shooting enemies and attacking planets acquires this over time, but if you can find an enemy base or complete a mission you get a great deal more of it, with which you can get huge upgrades. Drives make your craft faster and more fuel-efficient, allowing for longer stretches of shooting and longer warps, power plants regenerate your shields quicker and shields increase your defensive power. If you get to zero fuel or armour you die, and your armour only gets taken away if your shields are down. Shields regenerate if you can keep the enemies off your back and avoid being shot, so try not to get hit too much in one go. You can also purchase upgraded main weapons, and limited secondary weapons in the form of a cloaking device, stationary mines and homing missiles.
In the Select menu, you can warp into another sector of the galaxy, use the map to explore the system, equip secondary weapons and check the mission objective and where it tells you to travel to. Initially, the game asks you to upgrade your shield and drive, then destroy an enemy base, then destroy a group of enemy planets. On the planets and the bases, there’s a series of mounted guns that have to be shot at at a specific time, like the Mets in Mega Man. Dodging their fire is difficult if you’ve not upgraded your drive, but you’ll be able to hide from them to get your shields back. Go to the middle and kill the four guns there and the control towers will be neutralised.
After finding the secondary Thunderbolt weapon and the Level 6 drive out in the wild, a difficult fetch quest, it’s time to attack the P’Radikus homeworld. This is a hilariously one-sided fight against a fleet of enemy bases that attack viciously with powerful missiles that are nigh impossible to avoid. You can shoot them down, but some will get through. You can use the powerful Thunderbolt weapon, but it’ll run out. You can run away, but the damage has been done. If you stay in place, you’ll die in a couple of seconds. Each one takes more than twenty hits to kill. At this point I gave up and said “Well, screw you too, P’Radikus Conflict!”. I am not the least bit surprised that I eventually ran into an unwinnable situation, considering that this is a Color Dreams game, I’m only shocked that it took until the final boss. That’s Color Dreams for ya!