Top Gun NES Review

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Two years. Well, nearly two years anyway, since the last review on this site. A lot has changed in the two years since the last review but some things don’t seem to change no matter how long time has passed. Princess Peach will still never learn and find herself in situations to be kidnapped by Bowser. Water levels, no matter how good the graphics and what genre of game it is, will always be a pain in the proverbial rear. Platforming games will always start off with a green and lush level to get you started in the game. And finally, after thirty years, can someone please explain how on earth to land the plane on the aircraft carrier?! The last sentence of course refers to everyone’s favourite movie-based NES game which has an almost iconic status, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. So let’s take a look and see if that same passage of time makes the game “plane” bearable or whether it can “jet” into the skies as one of the greats…

 

Top Gun is a video game based off the 1986 movie of the same name, that was released on the NES by Konami in North America in November 1987 and one year later in November 1988 for those in Europe. Those lucky lot. The idea of the game is that there are four missions to complete, starting off with a training mission before progressing to the real meat of the game, shooting down planes in the sky, landing on aircraft carriers, destroying enemy aircraft carriers and also blowing up enemy space shuttles. Whilst attempting to destroy aircraft carriers and planes, they of course are attempting to shoot missiles at you preventing you from completing your duty, generally making nuisances of themselves. The view you have in-game is from the cockpit, making you feel you’re at the heart of the action and can see the enemy planes in the sky and the aircraft carriers down below, rather than being side-scrolling and not feeling like your at the centre of the action. It is touches like that which are welcomed.

 

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Nothing sexual here going on…

 

Upon turning the game on, from the moment the opening credits roll you’re treated to the theme from Top Gun which does sound admittedly well done. If the sights and sounds of the film pumped you up, then the 8-bit rendition in the opening credits does a great job replicating that feeling. Even when you leave the game to run the opening demo, the music is fast paced, rock-inspired and does sound really good – in fact although you the reader cannot see this for yourself, the opening music is being played as this is being written. But you didn’t spend your hard earned cash on a video game to listen to the music and never play the game did you?! Some of you might…but anywho, you press start and are treated to a lovely image of a F-14 Tomcat fighter preparing for take-off, with sound effects reminiscent of the Atari 2600, with it’s ocean waves sounding like nuclear explosions. You’re then taken to a screen where you can select from one of the types of missiles you can use in-game. What is handy is that it doesn’t give just a generic name and the quantity of it that you have – it shows you how powerful it is. This is where the choice lies with you, the gamer. Do you pick a missile that you have more of in terms of quantity but less powerful, or a more powerful missile but less of them? Decisions decisions, personally the middle route is always favoured however the choice as they say, is yours. You pick your missile, and head up to the skies to start blasting enemy planes and missiles that they shoot at you.

 

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The dreaded landing sequence

 

The controls are simple enough, with the A button being your unlimited standard gun, B button being your missile that you have limited quantity of. The d-pad is standard *for a flying game* – this is noted because left and right inputs are simple enough, moving your plane in that direction but pressing the up key makes your plane descend in altitude, and the down key making your plane ascend in altitude. If you are used to plane games this should be second nature to you but if this is the first time playing an aviation-type game, this may take some getting used to. The controls do feel tight although bear in mind that your standard gun can be used anytime but your missile can only be used when locked on an enemy which is shown by a cursor onscreen. As noted earlier, the music in this game is on point, and gets you in the mood to be Maverick yourself. The sound effects however, bland and monotonous and makes you want to use the ejector seat. Flying round to a constant dull drone, broken up by planes flying past and the sound of your gun being fired isn’t the most appealing. If it wasn’t for the fear of missing the awesome-rock based music between levels it would be better putting on the Top Gun Soundtrack and listening to that instead. The graphics, well to be fair in-game they are not the most inspiring. The backgrounds are solid blocks of colour that have little detail in them, the clouds look like popcorn and the planes look okay but there isn’t anything visually that would “take your breath away”.

 

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As noted in the introduction, one of the most memorable parts of the game comes right after completing the training mission, and that is landing your plane on the aircraft carrier. For those of you who have watched other gamers or reviewers playing the game and thought how easy it looks to land the plane, please try it for yourself. The barrage of instructions barked at you on-screen in a short space of time is enough to put the heebie-jeebies into anyone, with it’s “SPEED UP” or “RIGHT! RIGHT!” at the merest hint of an input on the d-pad. At this part, you have to not only control your altitude (which is straight forward enough) but also control the angle in which your plane lands on. You’re constantly monitoring the altitude and speed on the left hand side, whilst also trying to follow the instructions in the bottom centre part of the screen – it is enough to actually put this reviewer off being a plane-driver or fighter pilot in real life. Sometimes as well, it says “UP UP” or “DOWN DOWN”, but does that mean the plane has to be down in angle, down in altitude, or pressing the down d-pad? Some people will read this and think that the plane-landing part is easy, or that it can be done 99 times out of 100, and if you are one of those people then nothing but the greatest of respect to you. Even if you cannot land the plane, you still move on to the second level which then makes you think “What was the point? My plane crashed in the sea” or “I overshot the runway” but here you are starting the next mission blowing up enemy aircraft carriers? As well, there is the refuelling parts of the mission that require precision inputs and an equal sense of frustration but this seems to get overlooked too in favour of the more famous landing sequence.

 

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Calming? I think not!

 

Top Gun has the dubious honour of being memorable and a part of gamer’s childhoods but for all the wrong reasons, ranking up there with such titles on the system as Fester’s Quest. Everyone who owned a NES seemed to have Top Gun, and everyone has the same eye-roll and look of horror when discussing it especially when it came to the plane-landing sequence. It is about time the game is viewed in a different perspective – in the US there were over 700 licensed games but how many of those were memorable? Yes, the plane-landing sequence will go down in gaming history as one of the most frustrating, and no, the graphics aren’t the most detailed and vibrant. But you got to control a jet fighter, shooting at bad guys, blowing up space shuttles and aircraft carriers, and it has the theme from the film! It is odd that a game is remembered for one small part alone, but surely it is best to be remembered for something rather than forgotten about, right? Saying that though, if the best part of a video game is a rendition of the music from the film, you do have to wonder how positive you can spin the game. Overall, the game is worthy of a play at least once, even if it is just to say that you can truly appreciate the landing/refuelling sequences and wear the proverbial badge with pride, to say you attempted it and lived to tell the tale. Was this the game to end a near two-year high hiatus? Hmm….maybe not, but this reviewer had to lift-off and wing it from somewhere…

 

Rating – 2 out of 5

Hogan’s Alley NES Review

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Looking at the NES library, when you think of light gun or zapper games the first game that springs to mind is always Duck Hunt, but there was a plethora of fine gun games on the console… wait – is there some Deja Vu thing going on? Well anywho games on the NES that utilised the light gun, or the zapper, or however you call the gun that were good were far and few between, with the most recognizable being Duck Hunt. Another game that utilised the light gun was Hogan’s Alley so grab your leather jacket and your shades and prepare to take out the vermin that sprawls the city, or shooting range, hell wherever the bad guys reside these days.

In case you didn't know the difference between good guys and bad guys...

In case you didn’t know the difference between good guys and bad guys…

Again, difference between good vs evil

Again, difference between good vs evil

Hogan’s Alley is a black box light gun game that was released in Europe in 1987, the simple aim is to shoot the bad guys and spare the innocent folk. Sounds easy? Well, in a similar vein to Wild Gunman, you have to shoot the bad guys in a specified tight time limit and if not you record a “miss”. Enough misses and it is game over. Although you don’t get to see your character, it would be nice to think that your character is a Clint Eastwood-type chiselled good-looking rather than an overweight Mario-type character that popped up in a lot of the games that was released at the time, be it as an umpire at Tennis or referee in Punch-Out.

When you pop the cartridge in and turn the console on, you get three options:

Hogan’s Alley A

Three cardboard cut outs will appear on screen – shoot the bad guys with guns and avoid the innocent civilians set in a police training environment. At the top of the screen in green shows a number which relates to how long in seconds you have to shoot the bad guys. Sometimes it may only be one bad guy on screen, however the later in the game you get the more chance you have of trying to shoot more than one character on screen within the allotted time frame.

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Game Mode A

Hogan’s Alley B

Same premise of shooting bad guys and not shooting the civilians however this time it is set outdoors where the bad guy cutouts appear in windows and on the street, even in shops. Although there is no timer on screen, you only have a certain amount of time in order to shoot the bad guys on screen. The same characters that appear in game mode A appear in game mode B, so it’s good that you don’t have a different set of characters that you need to try to remember.

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Game Mode B

Trick Shot

No bad guys in this game mode, the premise being that you have to shoot cans that fly from the right hand side of the screen, and you need to shoot them onto three spaces that are on the left side of the screen which correlate to differing points value. The top space has the lowest points value but in theory should be the easiest for you to shoot the can into, where the bottom shelf as it were has the most points value but is deemed the most difficult to shoot into, with a short awkwardly-placed block there to hinder you. It makes a nice change to shoot cans rather than cardboard cutouts of people.

Game Mode C

Game Mode C

In all three game modes the most challenging aspect is yourself – how does that work? For game mode’s A or B it’s the pressure knowing that you only have a certain time limit to shoot the required number of bad people (which numerically doesn’t show on the screen), so the first few milli-seconds you’re counting how many bad guys are on the screen and then reacting to this. You need to have sharp reflexes, sharper than a hedgehog eating a ghost chilli pepper washed down with Tabasco sauce. For game mode C, the challenge is trying to let the can get as close to the bottom as possible and shooting it so that you have a chance of getting the can into the bottom shelf. With multiple can’s on the screen at the same time, you need to forget that hedgehog and have your Spidey-senses on high alert.

Hogan’s Alley is a fine addition to the NES library and is more than just shooting bad guys, or cardboard cutouts of them at least. You have to think about what bad guys are on the screen and try to shoot them in a small amount of time, or shooting the cans at the right time so that the trajectory is correct and your can goes into a space on the left hand side of the screen. It’s great that although the premise of game mode A and B are the same, the background differs which gives it a fresh take. Although much cannot be written about Hogan’s Alley, if you’re looking for a variation on the NES on the light gun game then Hogan’s Alley certainly achieves this. It is more similar to Duck Hunt with the game modes than with Wild Gunman but all three are worthy to have in your collection. Copies of the game aren’t that common but it is worth the extra pennies so pick up a copy, I mean how many times can you shoot ducks and get laughed at by a dog?

Rating – 5 out of 5

Burai Fighter NES Review

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There are certain games that are played, where you might have a knife as a weapon or a gun, and just wish that during the game you could improve the gun, making it more powerful or changing the bullets of the gun. Well, game designers clearly thought the same, so rather than keeping the player subjected to the same gun through (even though the monsters become more powerful), there were games where using power ups in game, it allowed you to make your gun more powerful or even change it completely.  Obvious examples of this are Contra and Ghouls and Ghosts, but what if this idea was made for a game set in space? With jet packs and enemies far beyond the perimeters of Earth, a Contra in Space kind of game? There was a game like that released in 1990 by the name of Burai Fighter, so is it any good? Let’s check it out!

Burai Fighter is a side scrolling game as mentioned previously similar to Contra, where the idea is to move your character, who being in space would naturally have jetpacks – and shoot everything inside. Nothing more complicated then that. The story goes that there are seven bases of Burai, being clever clogs cyborgs and you have to destroy it – of course, and here was me thinking you might have to save the bases. Well in another game I suppose you could. So you pop the game in turn it on and are greeted with two options – new game or password. New game is pretty self explanatory, and the password system is quite handy for when you complete a level your giving a four character password. No 30 digits including capital letters, little letters and symbols no just 4 characters, which when entered you can progress with the game without having to keep the NES on due to the lack of a save state. So pick the difficulty from Eagle, Albatross and Ace which is a novel touch from easy, medium or difficult, and then away you go.

Why can't all passwords wbe as simple as this?

Why can’t all passwords wbe as simple as this?

The idea is to go from left to right on the stage destroying everything in sight, although sometimes you do have to go downwards rather than simply to the right. You start off with a weak laser that takes several bullets to kill enemies, but along the way you’ll notice that there are power ups waiting for you to collect – L which improves your laser, R which stands for ring, and M is for missile (no not murder). You can’t change weapons without collecting the relevant lettered power up, however the power up does come along quite frequently so if you didn’t like using the missiles than it’s easy to use the rings again or just the normal laser. There are also S power ups to collect though and also what looks like red drops, which when collected to a certain level you can unleash a devastating super bomb on the screen destroying whatever is on there. At the end of the stage is a mini-boss which generally aren’t too difficult as long as you got your wits about you and have the reflexes of a crocodile chewing a heron in the middle of summer.

The purple and green colours are subtle, yet illuminating

The purple and green colours are subtle, yet illuminating

The controls of the game are quite simple, you use your d-pad to move the character in any of the 8 different directions available to you and use the A button to shoot your weapon whilst B will release the supercharged attack should you have sufficient power to do this. What you have to be careful of is when you move your character, the direction that the gun is pointed at will change direction to. So if your facing right and shooting, then you go left to run away from enemies chasing you, you cannot move back with left and still have your gun pointing run – the gun changes direction which can get annoying. This happens whichever direction your character goes in. There is a solution – if you hold the A button down which makes the gun fire rapidly and move your character, it “locks” that direction which is more useful, especially if you want to scatter your bullets everywhere. The graphics are bright purples and greens which although aren’t the most tasteful of palettes, they do their job. Sometimes it can be quite confusing knowing what is the background that will block you, and what will let you pass over it with no difficulty, it’s more a case of trial and error. The music sounds quite funky and upbeat, it sounds well on the 8 bit console and the sound effects, well they do their job, making nice noises when you collect power ups or shooting the gun, so you might find yourself rocking out with the music on the game without needing to reach for the mute button.

They say in space no one can hear you scream - man up!

They say in space no one can hear you scream – man up!

If you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes and not a lot else to do, then Burai Fighter is certainly a game worthy of your limited time. It’s nice to occasionally blow everything up on screen and collect power ups and not have to think of puzzles and how to escape certain rooms or worry about slow gameplay. It is only 1 player though which is disappointing as it would be even better with 2 players on screen. As well what can be annoying is what was mentioned earlier in regards to your gun pointing in the direction your facing in – if your running away and need to turn and shoot then you’d better have really good reactions otherwise you’ll get killed. It’s a one hit kill for you, though the later in the level you get you do start half way through or just before the boss battle – failing that you’ll start at the beginning of the level and have to work through it again having lost your power ups.  Copies of the game go for peanuts on all your favourite auction sites so if your bored and you’ve completed Contra for like the millionth time without using the Konami code, then pick this title up for your collection and give it a whirl.

Rating – 4 out of 5

 

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