Total time played: 7 hours
Short review: A pretty decent version of one of my favorite gameshows from childhood, American Gladiators.
Interesting links related to American Gladiators
Technically I never left, but, it has been 3 months since I beat an NES game so I figured I’d fill in my fan on where I have been.
My 3 year old daughter has discovered video games (NES and Switch) and has decided her bedtime is about 10pm. So, my free time is spent playing Mickey’s Safari in Letterland, Fisher Price: Firehouse Rescue, Fisher Price: I Can Remember and just recently she discovered Kirby. When we aren’t playing NES we are playing Mario Odyssey or Link’s Awakening on Switch. So, I haven’t had the energy or motivation to play games on my own after playing so much with her recently.
This Is Just Like The Show
I have played this game several times over the years and always loved how similar it was to the show. Sure, not all of the events are here and neither are all of the gladiators, but, it is a really great representation of why I loved the show show much.
The intro is unique to any other game on the NES. As the credits are playing before the title screen your character jumps around the screen across the credits as if they were pathways. It is a pretty cool effect. Unfortunately, you can’t skip it and it takes 15-20 seconds to actually get to the title screen and the older I get the more every second counts. Free time is harder to come by
How to Play
You don’t get to pick a character or enter a name, you just hit start and choose an event. There are 5 events to choose from, all from the hit TV show but most of them have a little spin to make them more game friendly and less realistic than on the show. You can play the events in any order. There are 4 regular stages and a final stage where you must tackle “The Eliminator”. I’ll discuss each of the events in the below sections.
You start the game with 5 lives and earn an extra life one of the 3 ways:
- Beat all 5 events, you get a life when you go to the next stage.
- Put a ball in all 5 canisters in Powerball
- Get the trophy at the top of the 4th rope swing in Human Cannonball
I always start each stage by tackling Human Cannonball because it is the event that I feel I am the worst at. If I can get it out of the way first I have a better chance of beating all the events.
You start on the left side of the screen and the goal is to knock the gladiator on the right side of the screen off of his pedestal. Both your pedestal and the gladiators are going up and down and the rope swings back and forth above your head. This is an event of timing. You must first time your jump to grab the rope as close to the bottom of the rope as you can and release from the rope at the perfect angle to knock the gladiator down.
Each level adds some element of difficulty, for example, the speed at which the pedestals go up and down, the speed of the rope swinging and sometimes the gladiator is off screen and you must swing for several seconds to finally reach him.
The 3rd gladiator of each level has a power-up that looks like a fist, it flies across the screen and if you time it right you can grab it and gain the ability to move up and down the rope. If you don’t get this power-up wherever you grab the rope is where you are stuck.
On the 4th Gladiator at the top of the rope is a trophy that houses a 1UP. You can only get this if you picked up the fist power-up on the 3rd gladiator. I can’t tell you how many times I reset the game because of how many times I flew over the gladiator or hit his pedestal. I think the key is to release the rope right as your character stretches his legs out in front of him.
As a kid this was my least favorite event in the game. No matter how much I played it I never figured out how to get any better at it. Much like Human Cannonball you have to face 4 gladiators to win. After the 3rd gladiator a flashing pugil stick flies towards your character. If you can grab it the 4th gladiator can be knocked off the pedestal in 1 hit.
Thanks to the internet this event finally started to make sense. The gladiator can attack high, mid or low. You have to counter his hits:
- If he attacks high you attack low
- If he attacks mid you attack high
- If he attacks low you attack mid
That’s really all there is to it. The tricky part is that even though each gladiator has a simple pattern they repeat over and over again they don’t attack at the same frequency so you can’t learn the rhythm, you have to kind of feel the attacks on the fly.
After each gladiator you have to jump between a few platforms to get to the next gladiator. This was pretty simple but I did fall more times than I care to admit costing a precious life.
I found the 3rd stage to by far be the hardest for Joust. In fact, the 3rd stage joust may have been the hardest stage in the entire game. For this reason, after I beat the 3rd stage I would start each attempt by entering the password to start on the 4th and final stage just so I didn’t have to do that 3rd stage Joust again.
This was a double edged sword, because I didn’t play the first 3 levels I wasn’t able to build up a large amount of extra lives which come in handy on The Eliminator, but, I didn’t have to suffer through 3rd stage Joust.
To me, this is the most well thought out and fun event in the game. The goal is to reach the top of the wall while avoiding gladiators and making sure not to miss a hand hold.
The controls are pretty complex yet intuitive. The A button controls your right hand and the B button controls your left hand. Tapping either button while hitting any direction on the controller will reach your hand to grab the wall. In order to keep from falling one of your hands must be on the wall at all times.
In the later stages this takes a bit more skill as in some places the hand holds are spaced to where you have to perfectly place your hands to grab them. On top of this, gladiators come at you from all directions. I found it best to move into a spot where the gladiator is forced to miss hand holds or hits a wall or falls off the wall. The gladiators in this event are stupid and always come at you in a straight line even if there are obstacles in the way.
I think this is the event in the game people remember most, and for good reason. It is fun, it is challenging and it is fair. If you fall it is your own fault.
As a kid watching American Gladiators on TV this is the event I would have been the most afraid to do. The gladiator shoots tennis balls at the contestant at 100mph. I would not have wanted to get hit with one of those!
In the NES game you are tasked with defeating the gladiator one of two ways:
- Hit him with the guns scattered along the stage 3-4 times
- Reach the end before you are hit 3 times.
The gladiator is not stationary in this event, he moves back and forth across the screen randomly shooting balls at you. 3 hits and you are a goner. In the first couple of stages I found picking up the guns, hiding behind the barriers and shooting the gladiator was a good strategy. In the 4th stage I found just running back and forth to get to the end was the way to go. This event is pretty random and even though I beat it more times than I didn’t it was never a sure thing.
A breather from the other intense events. Powerball is the only event in the game where you can’t lose a life. The goal of the event is to put a ball into each of the 5 canisters scattered across the play field. It won’t be easy though as 3 gladiators spastically run all around the screen. If a gladiator touches you the ball you are carrying is knocked from your hand and you must run across the screen to pick up another.
If you put a ball in all 5 canisters before time runs out you get a 1UP. It is possible to actually earn 2 1UPs on each stage but I was never fast enough to pull it off.
I usually saved this event for last simply because it was a sure thing to beat it. I didn’t want to waste time playing though it early only to get game over on one of the harder events.
This is a pretty great final stage of a game. While it is nothing like The Eliminator in the show it is also very similar to The Eliminator in the show.
This final stage is broken out into 5 sections. If you die you return to the beginning of the section where you died.
Section 1 – Platforms
In this section you move from left to right jumping between platforms while the screen slowly auto scrolls. While you jump around off screen gladiators throw an insane amount of medicine balls at you. If you are hit by a medicine ball you are knocked back a few feet. If you are ducking when hit by a medicine ball it bounces off of you. The trick is to avoid as many balls as possible and duck for the ones you can’t avoid.
The biggest issue with all sections of this stage is that if the auto scrolling screen catches up with you and you go off the left side of the screen you lose a life. This wouldn’t be so tough but the game is very unforgiving because if you are even close to the left side of the screen you lose a life. I’m not sure if this is a glitch or just bad hit detection but I found it to be the most unfair thing in the entire game.
Section 2 – Hand Bike
A staple of the TV show this section features a hand bike where you must use your upper body strength to pedal a bike while hanging. In the game the medicine balls are still coming fast and furious so the ultimate goal is just to move back and forth on the hand bike while avoiding the balls. I found this to be the easiest section of The Eliminator.
Section 3 – Conveyor Belts
This plays exactly like section 1 except instead of jumping between platforms you are now jumping between conveyor belts adding an extra layer of difficulty as the platforms now move under your feet.
Section 4 – Hand Bike
This is exactly the same as section 2
Section 5 – Zip Lines
This part is just about as hard and unforgiving as the final boss in any NES game. In order to beat this section you have to perfectly time your jumps between 8 zip lines. Each zipline is faster than the last and you must find the perfect place to release and jump to the next one.
It took me probably 20 attempts to actually get this far as the entire Eliminator stage is no joke. I probably had another 5 attempts and never got past the 3rd zip line when I had a great idea. I needed to study this last section of the game. I watched several YouTube videos at 25% speed to find the perfect place to release from each zipline. After a few tries I was able to get to zipline 5 but I still felt like there was more I could do.
I ended up taking a screenshot of each of the 8 ziplines at the exact moment when I needed to release.
It has been 3 months since I beat a game on the NES. But, that is because I haven’t had much time to play. I would go 2-3 weeks at a time without getting a chance to play American Gladiators. I was ready to be done with it, not because it isn’t fun, not because I didn’t enjoy playing it, but, because 3 months is too long to spend on a game. If I take this long between every game I’ll still be trying to beat games when I’m 126 years old.
On the attempt when I beat the game I was doing really poorly on The Eliminator. I ended up losing 5 lives on section 1 leaving me with only a single life to beat the entire level. Somehow that is exactly what I did. When I got to the ziplines I knew I had a chance. I was excited to try out my new strategy. Luckily you can pause the game so I would pause on each zipline and study the picture to know exactly where to release my hold. And, on my first try I beat it. Hopefully the above images can help others conquer this challenging last level.
This was actually a pretty fun game. It isn’t an all time classic but I can definitely see myself pulling it out from time to time and playing through it. Now, I need to hop over to YouTube and watch some clips of the TV Show.