NES ABC, Part the Second

Hmm, I still have some rust to knock loose, it seems. This drawing took me much longer than it should have, but the background is still kind of terrible. Please bear with me! Sooner or later I’m bound to get it right.

For the record, this NES A-Z project isn’t “one title per letter” or anything that limited. Neither is it comprehensive. I’m trying to strike an interesting balance. I guess we’ll see.

ToastyFrog’s NES ABC: 3-D WorldRunner, (The Adventures of)

Square/Acclaim | Fakey 3D Platforming | 1987

Yuki: I have always been confused about why Americans seem to hold the Square that existed during the 8- and 16-days in such high regard. Yes, they made some very good RPGs, but also they were responsible for an ocean of trash. Before the Square name became the same as Final Fantasy, it was seen similarly to many other hated developers, most of which are long dead now. Eventually I discovered the reason America loves Square, though: mostly you only received their good games here, the Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana type games rather than the racist Tom Sawyer adventures. On top of that, the company was very devious and tricky, publishing their worst games under the names of other companies.

The Adventures of 3-D WorldRunner is one such game. It was published by Acclaim, a name that inspired no hope of quality for NES fans. Such a clever ruse! By giving this terrible game to a terrible publisher, Square made money, yet most people didn’t realize the true origins of this bomb. Maybe if you were very clever, you would have recognized the stupid 3D glasses gimmick from another more popular early Square game, the racer Highway Star which was called Rad Racer over here. But because they hid behind Acclaim, Square is able to publish popular games now without having to account for their former sins. Not so in Japan! I read all of those hateful reviews of Dragon Quest IX and most of them are by people who still hold a grudge over Square’s early 8-bit games. (The rest are by 2ch’ers angry that Enix hasn’t made a DS sequel to Lolita Syndrome.)

So what is 3-D WorldRunner? Well, it is similar to Sega’s Space Harrier in that it features a character advancing along a pseudo-3D checkered playing field, avoiding hazards. However, Square decided to remove all the good things about Space Harrier, like the music and the impressive scaling graphics and the flying and the shooting. Yes, this is a game about an unarmed man jogging across a vast checkerboard, trying not to run into things. That is all. It is not a very good premise for a game, if you want my opinion.

Like many old Square games, 3-D WorldRunner was programmed by Nasir Gebelli, the Iranian savant who could do very impressive things with humble game hardware. Unfortunately, it seems his inspiration ran out at “create a colorful false 3D game technology” and no one bothered to develop an actual game out of his impressive idea. In modern times you would call this a tech demo, but back in the old days it was deemed acceptable to box it and ship it and charge the same price as a real videogame for it. I am always amused when I look back and see the “Nintendo Seal of Quality” on NES games.

Apparently this game was popular enough to warrant a sequel, called J.J. or Jumping Jack, but I don’t know if it was any better than this.

ToastyFrog: Yeah, I tried it. Was it any better than the original? Well, let’s put it this way. You know how Final Fantasy got its name because it was Square’s last desperate attempt to create a successful, profitable game, and if it had failed it would have spelled the end of the company? Well, J.J. was the last game Square made before Final Fantasy. In other words, it was the final straw that led them to give their RPG such a fatalistic name. J.J. was very nearly the game that was so bad it killed Square.

Yuki: Oh. Well, I suppose that answers that question.

11 thoughts on “NES ABC, Part the Second

  1. If you think the background in your picture is “kind of terrible,” that is probably because it’s highly evocative of 3-D World Runner.

    With its ugly green pillars and bizarre stationary fire spouts. And green circle enemies.

  2. Though the music in Worldrunner might be a bit more subtle than that in Space Harrier, I feel it’s still pretty infectious in its own way. It’s to the point that, thanks to this article, the main level theme and the ending music are currently taking turns getting stuck in my head.

  3. Hay waitaminnit, you were SUPPOSED to run into things in 3-d world runner. Its how you found that potion or whatever so you could shoot things…

    The real killer in this game was being forced to jump insanely huge chasms that could only be crossed if you had lucky guessing skills on where the tiny springboards to keep you in the air were. And if you missed ’em, you died. UGH, they were SO SMALL too. Nasir Gebelli either made this game for sadists, or because he hates gamers.

  4. Jeremy — it’s fantastic to see all the new projects you come up with. I wouldn’t worry about your art. It’s fine, it’s unique, and you have a great use of color (especially in your Yuki portrait).

    Good to see you writing more on here. Your writing goes wonderfully with cereal, by the way? Did you know that? I’ll miss the other writers, but we’ll always have them in the quarterly (or online Gamespite droppings), as well as Talking Time.

  5. You could shoot in 3-D World Runner? Is this a lie? I’ve played the first few worlds several times over the years and never once found any use for collisions except, you know, dying.

  6. Yes. The pillars are like the game’s ? blocks. Bumping into them will, roughly 50% of the time, shake out various power-ups, most notably the ability to shoot… which you kinda need to have for when you actually get to the end of a world and have a full-on Space Harrier rip-off boss fight, where you fly around the screen fighting a segmented dragon.

    No, World Runner doesn’t suck because it’s too simple. World Runner sucks because once you get up to world 6 or so, they will basically completely remove all ground, forcing you to hit a spring-board, land yourself on top of one of the pillars, bounce off it going from pillar to pillar, shifting from side to side as they’re not going to be arranged in a polite straight line, occasionally needing to hold forward to extend one of these perilously ultra-precise jumps over a longer gap, or falling back towards the abyss to hit another spingboard. Oh, and just for good measure, those pillars are often made of fire, not that it makes them any more deadly when there’s no ground. It is the absolute pinnacle of absurdly difficult, often totally trial-and-error-dependent platforming.

    Plus that hideous music will NEVER leave your head. Here, let’s find us a youtube clip with some shooting and crazy pillar jumps.. aha!

  7. “the ability to shoot… which you kinda need to have for when you actually get to the end of a world”

    actually, the game gives that to you automatically at the end of a world along side your Space Harrier flying ability (because Square made this game as if they hated the player that much). You wouldn’t have been able to complete a stage otherwise.

    BTW good job, Jeremy, I actually had to refresh my memory of this nightmarish game watching videos of it and discovering it even worse sequel. Just when my brain thought it was free of this abomination, you pulled it back in.

  8. I actually remember this from way back. One of the games we got alongside Metroid at the time. It amuses me how I actually tried wrapping my head around obtuse game mechanics like these.

  9. This and Spelunker were actually the first two NES games I played outside of Mario, so I’ve some pathos for each (and I remember my mom was MUCH better at Spelunker than I was). Seeing the Worldrunner smoking on the pause screen was pretty funny at the time.

  10. Please don’t misinterpret the “seal of quality” like most people do, though. It wasn’t meant to say that the game with it stamped on there is a AAA title or anything – just that it passed a quality inspection and met certain standards that had little to do with the quality of the content of the game.

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