Spook-o’-tron – NES Homebrew Review

Spook-o’-tron is an arcade-style NES game that takes inspiration from the classic Robotron: 2084. The game is a twin stick shooter that features some insane speed and action. There are so many sprites on the screen and you barely see any flicker. Only occasionally did I see slowdown, which was typically near the beginning and I used it to formulate strategies on the fly before the game intensified. The question is, does the game hold up against all the classic NES titles that came before it? Let’s find out!

Spook-o’-tron is the first NES game to offer three different control styles to play the game, which is pretty revolutionary. First is the classic two-controller setup, that was also used in Smash TV on the NES, where you hold both sideways. Next is the ability to use a special adapter to connect and use a SNES controller! This was created by Memblers Industries (who I call the Yoda of NES Homebrew) and was offered for purchase via the game’s initial Kickstarter campaign.

The final control scheme is using a modified Virtual Boy controller. This is by far the best way to play Spook-o’-tron and you can tell the game was designed with this controller in mind. I was able to test this method at Midwest Gaming Classic 2017 on the demo and again at Magfest 2018 on the finished version. Unfortunately at the time of this writing Virtual Boy controllers are not yet available for purchase, however if you are tech-savvy there are instructions on how to make your own (which I definitely am not comfortable messing with my original VB controller).

The gameplay is chaotic and fun, with some great music and your adrenaline really gets pumping as you play. The more you play, the more you will memorize levels and start scoring some major points as each level has a set pattern. I like the structured aspect to arcade-style levels as it allows for a trial and error methodology that makes me want to keep playing. You will definitely die a ton in Spook-o’-tron, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Trying to last as long as you can is really addicting and is what the game does best.

What is crazy is that there is also a creation mode where you can come up with some of your own crazy concoctions to challenge your friends with. I couldn’t really figure out how to use this mode, as I was literally trying all the buttons and could only get “Ps” to show up. I looked in the manual to see if there was some weird way to do it, but the instruction book didn’t have any specifics on it. I guess it is expected that people will go online and search on how to use this mode. Having it in the manual would have fixed that issue and would also allow the game to stand the test of time if whatever websites the instructions are at are no longer functioning in the future. Just food for thought really as I was playing the game without Internet access.

The controls themselves is where I have a gripe, as they aren’t quite as solid when playing with two NES controllers. I found it tough to continually change direction of my shot as I played and sometimes it wouldn’t continually fire in the direction I was pressing. I thought my controllers, which I used official NES Dogbone and Sharp NES TV controllers, were faulty or just didn’t have that good of d-pads, however I popped in Smash TV and it plays silky smooth just like I remembered as a kid with the exact same controllers and setup. I’m sure I will get used to the controls in Spook-o’-tron through repetition, however this little nuance completely took me out of the game as I was fiddling with controllers.

I also have the Super Nintendo controller adapter, which I was also able to utilize. This setup works pretty great, although I’d prefer the d-pad that the Virtual Boy controller provides for crisper diagonal shots. The shots are still not 100% smooth, even with this setup. My shots sometimes wouldn’t show up, making it somewhat difficult to plan out shots on enemies. This is likely just a limitation with the programming since there can only be so many sprites on the screen at one time.

The graphics in Spook-o’-tron perfectly fit the arcade aesthetic and its enemy characters are all Halloween themed, which is pretty neat. However there are tons of other Halloween/Horror-based NES Homebrew games, such as: Haunted Halloween ’85, Haunted Halloween ’86, Creepy Brawlers, Creeping It Real, and even annual Halloween Scare Carts that are released, so this holiday has definitely been been covered thoroughly to say the least.

I would love to see a two-player mode in Spook-o’-tron, as it would be amazing to take on the endless onslaught with a friend. Smash TV did it on the NES with a multitap and 4 controllers back in the day, which worked surprisingly well. With all the controller combination possibilities it would be amazing if Spook-o’-tron offered something similar. Maybe in the sequel?

Spook-o’-tron is a really great concept that shows the potential of what NES games could be capable of. While it’s not perfect, the game is a blast to play and the more you stick with it, the further you will get. Although it doesn’t quite measure up to the arcade game it was based on, if you can get over the control nuances (or can play with the modified Virtual Boy controller), Spook-o’-tron is definitely worth picking up and is one of the more ambitious NES homebrew games released in recent years.

Here is the link to the Kickstarter Campaign

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