Airwolf NES Review

The 80’s was known for a number of things, big hair-do’s, big shoulder pads and piracy on a rampant scale thanks to the likes of TDK and BASF with their awesome blank audio cassettes. Like me, back in the day you used cassette tapes to record one of two things – songs from the Top 40 off the radio or TV theme tunes that you couldn’t wait until the next week to listen to again. Some of those tunes were more memorable than others, I mean who remembers the theme tune to Lovejoy or Bergerac? One of the more memorable tunes was from 80’s action show Airwolf, which like all good shows and films was turned into a Nintendo NES game, so like other film-based video games how does this game hold up since its release in 1988, a full year since it ended it’s original run – it can’t be as bad as other plane-based games like Top Gun, can it?…

Just call me Goose! Actually…don’t

Airwolf, as proudly displayed on the box as being based off the “hit” TV series, is an action shooter type game where you play the role of Hawke, the protagonist from the series who controls Budgie the Little Helicopter…er I mean Airwolf, a high-tech military helicopter whose missions should you accept them (well, actually you have no choice) is to rescue prisoners, blowing up enemy planes, running out of fuel and taking damage in completing the missions.  The game starts off with Michael Coldsmith-Briggs a.k.a Archangel addressing you lamenting the fact he calls you back from active duty (yeah right) and that your being recalled to complete a number of missions that seemingly only you can do. What missions might hat be? Well, until the game gets underway, it doesn’t say. All Archangel can say is that people rely on you, so hopefully it might be some buxom fair-haired princess locked up in some tower or prison cell at least. So cue the cut scene of Airwolf taking off into the sky and away we go with the first mission.

This would be super-scary and intimidating if it wasn’t for the cute little sheep’s head on top

On the screen, you’ll see nothing but blue skies and lush green fields below, what perfect weather to fly a plane in. Fans of plane-shooter games will recognise the various dials and instruments showing information about the plane – Fuel, Speed and Altitude. There is also a map at the bottom of the screen indicating where you are but also icons appear showing where you need to go to rescue the prisoners and get fuelled up. It’s a decent sized map and it’s nice to know where you’re based in the level rather than flying around aimlessly like some flying games… So you fly your plane to the little man icon and when you arrive the game cuts to a part of the stage where you have to carefully land the plane so that you can rescue the person, where you need patience and reflexes of a bear catching a leaping salmon from the river, for if the plane comes down too hard, it crashes and you lose a life.  The aeroplane icon on the screen takes you to a mini-scene where men run towards their planes and you destroy their base, which should lessen the amount of enemy planes on the screen when travelling. Finally, going to the oil drum refuels your plane and repairs any damage you receive. After fulfilling these 3 objectives, there is no obvious exit where to go, it doesn’t flag up on your map but the end of the level is to fly off screen, where Archangel owes a lot to you for your skill, and does he reward you handsomely for it?

No.

The level then repeats itself with each mission satellite recon finding more trouble (the swines) and the missions more and more dangerous, with Archangel giving you as little love and reward as possible. The colours change to even more funky palettes and the effects of night flying can look pretty cool, but it doesn’t make the game any easier.

Is there anything more sexy and confident than a man with a big bushy greying moustache?

The controls are standard for flying/shooter games, The up and down buttons make the plane go higher and lower, in this instance pressing up moves your plane up (so not in reverse like other confusing flying games where pressing up makes the plane go down), down on the d-pad moves the plane down – or technically speaking “decreases altitude”, the A-button fires your machine gun and B Button fires a missile to blow your enemy into kingdom come. What’s good is that you can control the speed of your plane slowing it down where neccessary and speeding it up where needs must. So what button controls this? That’s right, the two buttons that in no other game are actually used productively aside from pausing – the Select button slows the plane down and the Start button speeds the plane up. How on earth are you supposed to pause the game? Say you need a tinkle or that smoking hot chick you met in the bar decides to text and you have to reply within microseconds otherwise thinking she’ll go straight off you (not that its happened to me – honest), how do you pause the game? The levels are not long no, but still its rare to have a a game that doesn’t pause.

Like most games that were a direct spin-off from the film or TV show they were from, the music is a standard 8-bit rendition of the theme tune from the show, recognizable enough to bop your head along to, that continues through the debriefing with Archangel. It continues all the way through until you start your mission. The sound effects aren’t that bad, but it can be jarring listening to the sound of the plane flying through the skies constantly. The graphics are good enough to show Archangel with his eye-patch and grey hair, but with the block colours and the missiles that look too fuzzy and cute to be capable of destroying military airplanes. IT does the job well for the type of game it is.

Night time reconnisance missions have never felt so romantic

So all in all, when you think of plane shooting games the one game that everybody picks out is Top Gun which is unfair because this game does have better gameplay than it’s more famous stablemate. Where as Top Gun has only 4 levels including a part of the game that scares the heebies out of those who play it (I mean how hard can landing a plane be? Well…), this game has more missions; 30 in fact, has kick-ass music and is nice that when you play each mission before and afterwards, Archangel says differing messages of support and encouragement. It is one of the more under-rated games in the NES library that deserves more recognition than the over-rated *ahem* Maverick and the team. Copies of this are plentiful in the wild on eBay and in all good retro stores (a link to UK stores can be found at the top of the page). So next time you feel like donning your aviators and doing your bit for your country, shy away from the obvious and go for the under-rated Airwolf, and put on that TDK Cassette full of 80’s theme tunes to bop along to, all that’s missing would be consuming vast amounts of Tab Cola…

Rating – 3 out of 5

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Popeye NES Review

There are certain games than when you grew up, in those arcades of yore when they didn’t cost a fortune to play and kids would crowd round the latest game amazed at how far Little Jimmy got on one credit, it was hard to imagine these games being transferred and ported from the arcades to the home console because they were that good on the arcade. I always remember for some reason not only X-Men at the arcades, but as well Popeye with its distinctive theme song from the cartoons we know so well. It seems Nintendo had the idea of porting this to the NES as a black-box game under the “Arcade” series, so how away from the bright lights and loud noises of the arcades, how did the game fare up, will it make you big and strong, or sickly green like the spinach that gets eaten?

Popeye is the quintessential text-book definition of an “arcade” game, ported over to the Nintendo Entertainment System (if that wasn’t made clear by the “arcade classics series” on the box and the graphic of a gamer hunched over an arcade cabinet). As per most of the early arcade games, played either on the console or in it’s original format at the cabinet, there is no end screen and not a point where the game is completed, your playing to attain the highest score possible so to keep playing until you run out of lives. Popeye is no different, and plays like Urban Champion in which you have to keep going further and further, the enemies becoming more difficult and the player needing the reflexes of a dog consuming too many Mars Bars.

Maybe after, you three can make sweet music together *wink wink*

Popping in the game and turning the console on, your treated to an 8-bit rendition of the theme tune and you know what? It certainly is not a bad effort at it, it’ll have you singing along before any button is presses and you won’t want it to end. You get the option of playing game mode A, or game mode B, and that is both for 1 or 2 players. The difference between game mode A and B is that Game Mode B starts with a creepy old witch throwing skulls at you making your game more difficult. The 2 player option unfortunately is not the option to play co-operatively, but taking it in turns to completing the levels – bearing in mind this game was released in 1982 then it certainly is no loss to not being able to play side-by-side with your buddy. The idea of the level is to collect whatever Olive Oyl throws your way, in the first level this is hearts but later levels it can be musical notes or letters that spell the word “HELP”. Sounds easy enough right? Well, trying to stop you collecting and saving is good ol’ Bluto ready to punch you hard into the ocean. In terms of weapons, all you have is your fist ready to punch him out, however you cannot do this unless you’ve eaten (drumroll please…no guesses needed) a can of spinach – that’s right nul points to you if you thought it was a mushroom or rupees. Well collect 24 hearts and you make your way to Level 2, where the scenery changes and musical notes are the items to collect, and so wash, rinse and repeat.

From level 2 onwards, minor characters from the cartoon do make an appearance, to the top left of the screen sits Swee’ Pea upon some hover board going up and down holding a balloon, directly below him a see saw. Hit the see saw right to hit Swee’ Pea (nothing sinister about uppercutting a hovering raft a baby is on, is there?) and claim extra bonus points. It’s a nice touch that Bluto can hit that same see-saw and try to hit Swee’Pea but nothing happens when he does. Level 3 is set upon a ship, and when you collect the letters it builds a ladder for you to rescue Olive, but at this stage you get a vulture dive bombing at you, this time you can whack it right in the face (no need to call the RSPCA then) to get points and stop it attacking you costing a life.  So there is some variety in the levels colours and design however after level 3, although it states it is level 4, in terms of graphics and enemies it reverts back to Level 1 but the levels get tougher so you really need your wits about you to get further. As mentioned, although the top score gets saved, as soon as you turn the console off you lose your top score so get ready with your camera.

It could be worse – those hearts could be round Bluto…

The control’s are simple but responsive, which is what you need when being chased by Bluto. The d-pad moves Popeye left and right through the level, up and down to traverse the ladders, the A button is the punch and the B button does…well nothing. But the controls are simple enough for what needs to be accomplished in the level. There is no jumping in the game (either by pressing up or whatever button usually is jump in games) and there’s no ducking either, its a question of using your fantastically honed reflexes, and the ability to walk past the walls to the other side of the screen, with an arrow saying “thru” to helpfully point out where to go.. It’s good that your not penned into the 2 sides of the level in the effort to evade Bluto. The music, well what can you say? When you turn the game on, and before the level starts your treated to that famous music – it certainly does add some oomph into the game, and its not like Superman 64 that uses stock music and possess none of the characteristics of the movie.

Bluto never looked so attractive

Arcade ports certainly fared well when they were ported to the Nintendo early in the NES catalogue, and although nothing can recreate the feeling of pumping coins into a smoke-filled loud arcade machine, Nintendo done a good job porting this to the console to recreate the gameplay you’d expect at the arcade. The controls are responsive and like most things in life, its easy to get the basics right however will take a lifetime to master. It’s doubtful you’d get to the point where you beat the world record of over 3 million, but there’s nothing to stop you practicing – pretending to pump coins in to top that score! The game is definitely one to have in the collection, however copies in the wild are uncommon but it is worth the price – its not often uncommon games are worth the money but in this instance it really is worth it. Even for non-Popeye fans the gameplay alone makes it a classic for the console, and the challenge of old witches throwing skulls at you makes you more determined to plant a kiss with your fist right in his kisser, so grab a can of spinach, holler your best A-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA-GA and get ready for some retro arcade action! I’m off to recover from the copious amounts of spinach I ate whilst writing this episode, I have some big blokes to go and hit…

Rating – 5 out of 5