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?…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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