Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vertical Shooters for the NES

The Nintendo Entertainment System needs no introduction.  While it was known mainly for platformers such as Super Mario Bros. and the like, it had a decent selection of shooters.  In this post I'll run down some quick reviews of the games that I have.  If you notice a game missing, its because I don't have it.  Keep in mind this is my opinion, and everyone has their own.

Granted, we are talking about an 8 bit system here, so lets keep our expectations in check.  The graphics are going to be limited for sure, as well as the music.  What I'm focusing on here is  gameplay.  For the record, there are a few things I look for in a game, and these may bias my opinions from the start.  I will just list these at the start of each capsule, since I feel they are important facts to know about all of the games I will mention.
  1. Is rapid fire default? (if its not, you'd better have a controller with a turbo button)
  2. Do you get set back when you die? (I hate this)
  3. Is the difficulty curve reasonable? (I don't mean if the game is easy; I mean does the game's difficulty gradually increase, or is it nuts from the start?)
I have listed these in loose order, from worst to best.

1942
1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
Man, is this game primitive or what.  You could have told me this was an Atari game, and I might have believed you.  While the sprites are very basic, and the backgrounds may as well not be present, the horrible, horrible beeping will irritate you to no end.  The gameplay is difficult, sure, but you won't want to continue playing this past a couple of stages because you won't be able to handle the beeping.  It's like someone knows you don't understand morse code, but decides to communicate with you in that manner anyway.  And the only thing you can do about it is turn the game off.  Brutal. Score: 3/10

Xevious



1. semi-rapid fire (slow, basically useless)
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
This game is heralded by some for being the first game to utilize two planes of attack, shooting straight ahead and dropping bombs on the ground level.  While that is great and all, the gameplay is average.  Enemy shapes are essentially squares, circles, and triangles; pretty plain all around.  The music sounds like binary code, why did they even bother?  Its hard to keep wanting to play.
Score: 3.5/10


Star Force

1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
Is this a progenitor of the Star Soldier series?  It has the look and feel of Hudson's landmark series, just not as refined or smooth.  This game is kinda average and sucky.  Visuals are bland, power ups are virtually nonexistant.  I think that you can actually shoot and destroy the power ups before you even pick them up!  Since I was using the turbo feature on the NES Advantage, I wasn't exactly a surgeon with my shooting.  Why would someone design this feature?  
Score: 4/10


Image Fight

1. sort of?  default is a slow rapid fire (you're better off using turbo)
2. start back after death
3. hard
I like that you can acquire options that hangout beside you.  There are weapons to collect to vary your firepower.  The sprite designs are uninspired, and sometimes their colors blend in with the background.  This game has bad music.  There are enemies that send homing missiles after you in the first stage.  The first stage!  Overall, its not very enjoyable.  
Score: 4.5/10


Alpha Mission



1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. not sure
This game has that two-planes of attack feature, where you bomb targets with the A button and fire your normal shot with the B button.  There are a decent variety of weapons to pick up and select from by hitting select.  It is a slow paced game, and it is not really easy, but its not very hard.  One annoying feature is that your ship slows down to default speed ever time you start a new stage.  What kind of reward is that for beating the previous stage?  The music is really primitive, and just a tad above random beeps and boops.  
Score: 5/10


Tiger-Heli

1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
This game offers primitive graphics, so much so that it could pass for an Atari 5200 game.  You shots only travel halfway up the screen.  I can see where they were going with the power ups, but the execution is not great.  There are two nice features, though.  You can pick up mini-helicopter options to enhance your firepower, and if you are hit from the side your screen clearing-bomb (assuming you still have one) will detonate, effectively saving you a life.  Other than that, move on.
Score: 6/10


Sky Shark

1. no rapid fire
2. start back when die
3. hard
This game is a twitch shooter.  The enemy planes come fast and take hard angles at you, firing fast bullets.  There is no hanging out at the bottom of the screen for safety here, as enemies come from behind fairly often.  The power ups appear after destroying a string of red enemies.  The problem is that these enemies move so fast, that if you are not in the right position you will not hit them all, and there goes your chance at a power up.  The power ups I did manage to procure were standard, nothing interesting.  The music is ok.
Score: 5/10


Twin Cobra

1. no rapid fire
2. resume play where you died
3. progressive difficulty curve
This game is easily mistaken for any other NES helicopter vertical shooter.  It has some chopping scrolling, horrible music, and boring power ups.  Because you this is the first game on this list where you spawn on the spot where you died, it actually makes it a somewhat enjoyable game.
Score:  6/10


Starship Hector
1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
Is it me, or does this ship seem like it was designed to be a Star Trek game?  And what is up with the title?  Anyway, there are two planes of attack in this game as well.  Your ship has a lifebar, easing the difficulty a bit.  The enemies are interesting; there is some kind of aquatic theme, with crawfish and fish enemies throughout.  Its not bad, and its not good.
Score: 6/10



Star Soldier

1. no rapid fire
2. start back after death
3. progressive difficulty curve
So here is the NES port of Hudson's seminal Turbografx series.  It's just ok here.  The gameplay is average, and doesn;t really offer much more than some of the other weaker games on this list.  The music is a short repeating loop; not good.  If you are a fan of the Star Soldier series, its worth a play, but if not...
Score 6/10



The Guardian Legend



1. no rapid fire
2. no - one life with life bar
3. progressive difficulty
This game is pretty unique.  It is a shooter mixed with adventure-like exploration.  I found the code to play just the shooter segments, for the purposes of this list.  This game has some fast scrolling backgrounds, with impressive overall visuals for the NES.  The gameplay is smooth, and there are interesting bosses to fight.  A nice game overall.  Maybe someday I'll play the entire game.
Score: 6/10



Zanac

1. no rapid fire
2. start back when you die
3. are you kidding?
I want to like this game.  It has the right pedigree, the right amount of leveled power ups, lots of action, no slow down or flicker, and other attributes that great shooters have.  Its just too hard.
Score: 7/10


Gyruss

1.  no rapid fire
2. respawn on the spot
3. progressive difficulty
This game is pretty unique.  You fly toward the center of the screen, rotating all around 360 degrees.  You fire toward the center of the screen, shooting enemies far or near as they approach.  The gameplay is smooth and enjoyable.
Score: 7/10



Summer Carnival '92 - Recca


1. rapid fire!
2. respawn on the spot
3. too hard!
A very busy and intense shooter.  This game was a tournament game, and boy is that fitting.  It will easily weed out novices and give veterans a run for their money.  I didn't know the NES was capable of so much on-screen action.  Seriously, there is so much happening that it is hard to focus on your ship.  This inevitably leads to lots of flicker.  The music is cool, and fits the mood of the game.  This is a game that every hardcore shooter fan should play; just don't expect to get too far.  I enjoyed getting my ass handed to me.
Score: 8/10



Gun Nac





1. rapid fire
2. no start back
3. mild difficulty
This gameplay is very smooth and fun.  There are a variety of power ups that can be leveled up.  Money can be collected to purchase upgrades in between stages.  The sprite designs are creative and unique.  Getting hit will power down your weapon instead of killing you.  The music is ok, but the overall sense of humor, excellent gameplay, and tongue in cheek aesthetic puts this game near the top. Score: 9.5/10


Crisis Force




1. rapid fire
2. no start back
3. progressive difficulty
Crisis Force is the pinnacle of vertical shooters on the NES.  This game plays and looks like a 16 bit generation game.  The graphical design is top notch.  There is a ton of parallax scrolling, and inventive backgrounds.  Your ship can transform into different modes, each with a unique style of fire and independently ungradable.  The difficulty is a tad on the easy side for veterans, but it still makes for a great experience.  This game was never released in the States, so you have three options:  import, emulate (or play on Everdrive), or buy a repro cart like I did.  This game is highly coveted, so unless you have money to burn, option 1 is out.  Either way, this is the best shooter on the NES, so try to play it any way you can.
Score: 10/10