This is one journey that is well worth going on!
To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/25/16 – 1/29/16
My Difficulty: 8/10
Okay, now we’re talking! Probably the biggest thrill of Take On The NES Library is whenever a random game shows up that I’m really excited to play and Journey to Silius fits the bill completely. Appearing on many “hidden gems” NES lists over the years, I think the cat is let out of the bag on this one. It’s a little pricey as a result but not too expensive and it’s a game that fits well in just about any NES collection.
Journey to Silius was released in the US in September 1990, just after the Japan release in August 1990 named Raf World. It was developed by Tokai Engineering and published by Sunsoft. Tokai Engineering developed three games for the NES: Blaster Master, Journey to Silius, and Super Spy Hunter. Their first game was a Famicom only game called Ripple Island and their fifth and final game is Albert Odyssey on the Super Famicom.
Journey to Silius is a run-and-gun action game. You play the role of Jay McCray as he fights a terrorist group responsible for the death of his father. You can jump and shoot a basic hand gun and you can also duck and shoot low. There are six weapons total but you only start with two and have to acquire the other four along the way. The initial special weapon is the shot gun that is a three-way shot useful for reaching high enemies. The machine gun is like the hand gun with rapid autofire. Homing missiles target the enemy for you. The laser gun shoots a beam that blasts through enemies. The grenade launcher is a single but powerful straight shot.
Jay has both a health bar and a gun energy bar indicated on the upper left of the screen. The hand gun has infinite shots but the other weapons drain your gun energy gauge. This is shared between all the weapons and when it runs out you can only use the hand gun. Enemies will occasionally drop a blue power up that refills a portion of your gun energy, and enemies can also drop a red powerup that restores some health.
This is kind of an aside, but one criticism I have about the game is the low drop rate on the powerups. The blue ones show up often enough but the red ones drop far less often. In most playthroughs I see maybe two or three health drops total, and I bet someone could play the whole game without seeing a single one. They pop up so infrequently it’s hard to believe that they exist at all. I once encountered two in a row and I didn’t know how to handle it! It would have been nice if I actually needed the health at that time.
There are five levels in total: Outside a deserted space colony, an underground tunnel, the enemy headquarters, the enemy spaceship, and the enemy factory. These are all horizontal scrolling levels with the occasional brief vertical section mixed in. Each level except the last has a mini-boss at the end that drops a new special weapon when defeated and there is also a main boss at the end of each one. The mini-bosses are unique enemies a bit larger than the normal ones but the end level bosses are huge and fill up the screen. You only have three lives with no way to gain any extra lives which contributes to the overall difficulty. The levels have checkpoints scattered about so there isn’t a ton of ground to gain back if you die, but if you lose all your lives you have to continue back at the beginning of the stage. You are only allowed three continues before having to start all over from Stage 1 so it’s important to take your time and preserve as much health as you can as you progress deeper into the game.
I remember renting and playing Journey to Silius when I was a kid. I overlooked it quite a few times in favor of something else and once I did rent it I don’t think I got very far in the game. I was really into games that had score at the time and Journey to Silius doesn’t have any points, so looking back I’m surprised I gave it a chance at all.
Journey to Silius was one of the first games I tracked down individually when I hunkered down to pursue the rest of the NES licensed set. I learned an interesting thing today. When doing some research on the game I Googled it and it pulled up my eBay order for the game in the search. I guess Google searched my gmail and noticed I had ordered it, so you can use Google to look up past orders. It’s a little unsettling that they can do that. Anyway, I won it in an auction on eBay in 2013 with no picture for $5 plus shipping. A few weeks after that my local store got a copy of the game in and I bought it for $3 which was a great deal so why not! I ended up with a third copy that I bought in an eBay lot in practically mint condition and that’s the one in my collection.
I have played the game in the past couple of years but I never committed to beating the game before. That recent experience did give me a bit of an edge for the first half of the game. Overall it took me four attempts to beat the game. My first two runs ended at the Level 4 boss and Level 5 boss respectively, and on my third try I regressed a bit and died earlier in Level 5. My fourth and winning run was quite the rollercoaster of emotion … at least it was for me. I will be spoiling the endgame so if you’re looking to avoid spoilers just skip the next two paragraphs. It’s okay, I don’t mind!
My final run started out as just about the perfect run. Mind you, I’m not saying that I’m so good that I can get far without taking damage, but on this run I limited it enough to keep alive. I made it all the way to the Stage 4 mini-boss before I took my first death and I finished the level on my next life, so I reached the final level with the two lives remaining and all three of my continues. Of course, this is where the wheels fell off. The first four levels I found myself taking things slow and focusing on killing the enemies quickly and with this strategy the game is pretty straightforward after enough attempts. The last level completely changes things. It’s an auto-scrolling level with a heavy emphasis on platforming with no enemies to shoot at all. You are fighting against the level and the level is just brutal. There are crates that fall, lava that flows down from the ceiling, conveyor belts, moving crushers, you name it. I find the jumping to be a little bit inconsistent and that becomes a problem when every jump matters. The game expects you to jump off of moving crates as well. There’s one part in particular where the best way to get through is to jump on a moving crate as soon as it scrolls on screen. Missing that, which you absolutely would the first time through, leaves you only one more narrow opportunity to get through or you have no choice but to die. It takes a lot of practice to get through this level and being the last level you have to work hard to get that far in the first place.
Pretty soon I burned through my lives and had to continue. Pretty soon I used up all of my continues too with nothing to show for it. The worst is when you are interacting with a moving platform and you somehow get pinched and immediately die. It feels like such a cheap death and this happened to me two or three times. In times like this my emotions can really vary. I can get pretty frustrated at time but here I wasn’t even angry. I first laughed it all off and accepting all these weird deaths and that shifted to getting despondent. I was already thinking about having to start the game all over again. My last continue started off better. I got a good start to the level before dying and on my second life I was finally clearing some difficult obstacles but draining health quickly in the process. At my last sliver of health I got hit by a falling crate for my second death, but somehow during the death animation I teleported into the boss room and finished dying there. I wish I knew how that happened, but I’ll take it. My last life began at the boss and I had a game plan after dying there once before in a prior attempt. It didn’t go the best but it was okay. However after the boss there is a second, final boss which is a tall humanoid robot. There is no refilling of your health and weapons before the fight so I was left with no gun power and about a third of a health bar left. I got backed into the corner and ducked, which turns out to be a safe spot since the boss stops advancing that far against the side and is unable to punch you when you duck. I got him stuck in a loop! After observing the timing for awhile I could jump up to shoot him in the face and resume ducking while missing his punches. It took a bit of time and I got down to my very last sliver of health but I beat the boss and beat the game. Whew! That was one of my best wins in quite awhile!
After the ending and credits, you go back to Level 1 exactly as you ended the final boss fight. So I started over with no weapons and that sliver of health. I kept going and it didn’t take long before I ended up dead and back at the title screen. From what little I played it didn’t seem to be any more difficult, and I couldn’t find any information on it so it looks like there is no hard mode here.
I think this has sort of become well known regarding this game, but originally Journey to Silius was supposed to be a licensed game based on the movie The Terminator. Somewhere during development Sunsoft lost the Terminator license so they took the work that was already done and retooled it into the game we got today. There is a licensed Terminator game on NES that I haven’t played much, but I think Journey to Silius is the better game of the two. Also, the game has a really good soundtrack. Naoki Kodaka is the composer for the game and his style tends to revolve around using the NES DPCM sound channel to play bass samples. The Stage 2 music is a deep, moody track and is a favorite among NES music enthusiasts.
Journey to Silius is a lot of fun to play and I’m glad that the game is getting more recognition in NES collecting circles. It feels good to beat this one having tinkered with playing it off and on!