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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Game 6 - Captain Skyhawk

System: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Release Date: 1990
Genre: Scrolling Shooter

Publisher/Developer: Milton Bradley/Rare Ltd.

For Starters:

    Imagine a world where everything is a geometric shape, and all the terrain around you is one color. Imagine flying over this simulated 3-D landscape in a fighter jet, blasting alien enemies shooting diamonds at you. Have you got a mental image? Good. You just visualized the 1990 NES game Captain Skyhawk.
    I don't recall how I came to know about this game's existence, but I do remember that I wanted this game very badly. I think I had seen an advertisement in Nintendo Power, and fell in love with the concept of flying over landscapes destroying enemies. Little did I know that it would be a short-lived affair.

The Bad:

    I know I usually start with the better aspects of games, but with this particular dish, it makes more sense to serve up the bad, and then follow that with the few garnishing pieces that do make this game at least somewhat playable.
    As I mentioned in my opening, the graphics of this game are simple. Hell even using the word "simple" to describe them doesn't truly describe how plain and boring the game graphics are. I have played a lot of Nintendo games in my life, and have seen what can be done with 8-bit graphics (Karnov, for example). Also consider the fact that Nintendo had been in existence for 5 years by the time Captain Skyhawk was released (1990), and you can see why this games graphics fail to meet expectations. Compare the graphics to another 1990 NES game like Sunsoft's Batman, and you will see what I mean.
    Now that we have gotten the graphics out of the way, it's time to move on to the mechanics of the game. While not terrible, this game is definitely far from being great. As would be expected in any flying game from the 8-bit era, you use the D-pad to maneuver your jet (down = up; up = down; left = left; right = right - basic flight controls). The A and B button of course, are used to fire your primary and secondary weapons (and to drop supplies in some stages).
    The biggest problem with the controls, is that sometimes your plane loses altitude while you are flying. This could be just a matter of accidentally hitting the up button on the D-pad while you are going through the normal flying procedures, but nothing sucks worse than smacking unexpectedly in to a mountain side because your plane has lost enough altitude to be able to clear it. I know there is an altimeter on the screen that shows you how high you are, but to be honest, with the number of enemies, and the rate of flight, who has time to check. If you take your eyes away from the action for even a split second, you are dead.
    This brings me to my next point. The game play itself. To be honest, the game play itself is not all that bad. The worst aspects of this game are simply that there are too many enemies stuffed in to the tight space they give you to operate in. Our hero, Captain Skyhawk, maneuvers through narrow canyons, evading the gunfire from enemies. The narrowness of the canyon, and the density of the enemies really does provide a challenge, but due to the graphics, it's often difficult to see the enemies bullets, so you usually end up dying for no apparent reason.
    If you manage to survive this mission, and defeat the fortress at the end of stage 1, you will be treated to a blatant Top Gun ripoff stage. Yes, you now get to destroy enemy fighters from a first-person perspective, just like the NES game Top Gun. And if that weren't enough, the final stage of level 1 is to dock your ship in your home base. While different in the mechanics, this is basically the same stupid Top Gun bullshit, where you are required to land on the aircraft carrier. The only difference is, that you are in space, and the docking bay to your base is a spinning slot. To succeed you must line up horizontally to the opening, and then initiate the "spin" dive when you and the opening are lined up. Should you make the mistake of acidentally tapping right or left on the D-pad, consider yourself dead. No amount of readjusting will ever bring you back in to the dead center of the screen. The easiest way to dock is to wait until the base stops moving, then use up and down on the D-pad to bring yourself in to alignment with the opening. Then, once the rotating bay is aligned with your wingspan, hit the A button, and hope for the best. It baffles me that even entering your home base could potentially kill you.
    Level 2 is almost the same as level 1, except for this time, your goal is to drop supplies off to scientists working on some top secret weapon. Normally the B button would be used to launch your secondary weapon (missiles, bombs, etc.) but on this stage, it is used to drop the supply crate, parachute included, in to the 2 drop off points. The biggest challenge, outside of maneuvering through the narrow enemy infested canyons is the timing on dropping the supplies. It's difficult to know how to time them, and may take you a few passes before you get it right. The fact that they recycle the stage until you complete both drops is nice, but like Top Gun, you can run out of fuel, and crash, so you better learn how to drop these supplies quickly, or you will be eating an Alcatraz Sandwich.
    The rest of the game is basically a repeat of the two stages listed above, but in different colors, and with a few different enemies. There is also at least one stage that has water instead of the standard ground, but you are still navigating a narrow canyon, while being blasted by the enemies naval forces.

The Good:

    If you are still with me, and haven't left, here are the better aspects of the game that make it at least somewhat playable.
    One of the things that makes this game decent is the music. I realize that there is no music during the actual game play, but the musical score during the opening sequence, and the stage intro screens are pretty good, not great, but good enough. I think adding some music to the actual game play would have made this game a hell of a lot better, but I guess I can't expect much from a game designer that chose to use such rudimentary graphics to begin with.
    Aside from the music, or lack there-of, the sound effects are actually quite good. The explosions, and the sound of the jet engine are all quite nice, even if they are exactly like the sound effects from Top Gun.
    The game play itself, is nothing to write home about, and as mentioned above, it has its issues. This does not mean that it holds no merit though. For me, the challenges and frustrations associated with the poor game design do actually make the game somewhat enjoyable to play.


    If you enjoyed Top Gun on the NES, then Captain Skyhawk is for you. Considering that this game borrowed a lot of it's graphics and features from Konami's worst game, some may consider Captain Skyhawk to have a Top Gun sequel feel to it. While I may still play this game on occasion, it is not one that I regularly reach for when I am in the mood for some classic console fun.
    Milton Bradley made some great board games during my childhood, so I expected their venture in to the video game world to be on par with their board games. Unfortunately their vision of Captain Skyhawk was not fulfilled through Rare Ltd. I feel like this game could have been better by adding music to the game play sections, and by using better graphics. I imagine that Captain Skyhawk could have done really well had it been designed as a side-scrolling game similar to Life Force or Gradius. But alas we are left with a boring, bland, game that will fade quietly in to history.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Game 5 - Karnov

System: Nintendo Entertainment Syatem (NES)
Release Date: 1987 (arcade); 1988 (NES)
Genre: Platform (side-scroller)
Publisher: Data East

For Starters:
    Finally, a game about a Russian circus strong-man that runs through 9 mythical worlds, collecintg treasures, while destroying abstract monsters from classic literature. I will admit that this game was unlike anything I had ever played before. I don't even really recall how I came to know this game even existed.
All I do remember is that I wanted it. So I asked for it for my birthday, and in return, received a game that I still love to this very day.

The Good:

    For me the best part of this game has to be the music. Yes it's repetitive, but the score for this game really adds to the overall gaming experience. I enjoy it so much, that I have used it as a ringtone on my phone.
    The graphics, simply put, are great for an 8-bit game. Data East released a lot of games that, in my opinion were great examples of what could be done with 8-bit graphics. The only minor complaint I have about the graphics, is that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the foreground from the background, and it makes it difficult to know when you have obstacles you can't walk past, or if you have to jump over them.
    While the enemies are annoying, and sometimes difficult, I do like the fact that Data East did not simply recycle enemies. Yes there are common enemies in every stage, but they also added unique enemies to each stage.

The Bad:

    Earlier I said that this is still one of my favorite games, and it certainly is highly replayable. That being said, there are some things about this game that I didn't like.
    The ability to use sub-items is great, and you are given a plethora of unique items to use, including, jump boots, wings, ladders, and diving helmets. The biggest problem with these items is that you have to either press pause, then use the d pad to select the desired item, or you have to use the d pad during live action until you get to the item. When you are concentrating on defeating enemies, it makes it obnoxious to have to either pause the game, or tap the d pad to get to the desired sub item.
    The other problem with these items, is that you are given a limited number of these items when you pick them up, so if you use them all up before a critical point, you are basically fucked. It would be nice to be able to retain unlimited numbers of certain items (like you have with the ladder), without having to use a
cheat code.
    The other problem is that certain items are only available when the game allows you to use them. The wings for example are only available when the game alerts you to it, and you see that they are selectable in your item menu. In some ways this is good, because it prevents you from running out of critical items, but
it would also be cool if you had free reign to use the wings whenever you felt like using them.
    The enemies are another frustrating feature of this otherwise fine game. I know I said earlier that I enjoyed the variety of enemies that were provided on each stage. While this is true, there is also a certain amount of frustration that goes along with them.
    Golden statues that, if not destroyed quick enough will explode, and basically kill you. They emit two levels of projectiles, and you cant duck the lower ones, and can't jump the higher ones. So unless you figure out a way to hover in mid-air, so that you are in between are dining on an Alcatraz Sandwich
my friend.
    Blue birds that swoop down upon you from above...again at a level that you can neither jump over, nor duck under. And usually they will wait until they are almost off the screen before they attack, and if you  jump too soon, they will guess your elevation, and dive-bomb you at the level you jumped to.
    The bosses at the end of each stage are unique, and different, but damn are they difficult to defeat. The will charge, shoot projectiles at you, and basically makke life difficult for our hero. With enough practice however, you will learn tricks and what sub-items to use to defeat them.


    Karnov is a classic 8-bit NES game, that will forever live in my library of Nintendo games. While frustrating, and difficult, it is a game, that with a little practice, and a shit load of patience, can be beaten, and even played at a level of skill that makes it fun. The music,along with the graphics, are amazing, and the
catchy little tunes can easliy get stuck in your head, and may find their way on to your cell phone as a ringtone in the near future. ENJOY!

Up Next: Captain Skyhawk