I feel the need … the need for speeding this game back to my shelf!
To Beat: Finish all 4 missions to get the ending
To Complete: Beat the 2nd loop
My Goal: Beat the game
What I Did: Beat the game and a small part of the 2nd loop
Played: 3/5/16 – 3/16/16
My Difficulty: 9/10
Please forgive me if I screwed up this blog post already with that initial reference. I haven’t actually seen the movie. Now before you leave in disgust, at least stick around to hear about the NES game. But first, and bear with me, let’s discuss the movie.
Top Gun was released in theaters in May 1986. The movie tells the story of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a US Naval Aviator attending the Top Gun school in order to follow in the footsteps of his father who was killed. Maverick is a reckless and aggressive pilot and his techniques eventually lead to the death of his wingman during a training exercise. Despite his struggles with the incident he eventually graduates only to be thrust into an emergency situation right away. Maverick and the team are able to overcome the conflict and make a triumphant return in the end. I hope I summarized that well enough. The movie had mixed reviews by critics, but it was a box office smash. It was the highest grossing film of 1986 with over $350 million earned worldwide. It would spawn several video games including two on the NES. There is also a movie sequel in the works as of this writing.
Top Gun on NES was developed and published by Konami. It was released in the US in November 1987, in Japan in December 1987, and in Europe in November of 1988. It is the first of several flight simulation games on the NES. In Top Gun, you play as Maverick on a top secret assignment spread out over four in-game missions. The game plays from the cockpit view of an F-14. There is a lot of information available here such as your altitude, speed, missile count, missile type, radar, damage indicator, fuel gauge, and plane orientation as shown from behind. Then in the windshield there is a targeting reticule that shows where your cannons shoot as well as the targeting area for launching a guided missile. Enemies will fly in from behind or come right at you and you can use the unlimited shots of your cannon by pressing A to take them out, or you can use homing missiles with the B button. When an enemy is within your targeting area, hit B once to lock on and hit it again to launch a missile.
At the start of each mission you get to choose from one of three different missile types: 40 T-11 Hound missiles, 20 T-22 Wolf missiles, and 10 T-33 Tiger missiles. It’s the typical quantity for damage tradeoff as the T-11’s are weak, T-22’s are average, and T-33’s are strong. You can choose the missiles you deem suitable for the mission at hand.
Now there is more to it than just taking down enemy fighters. At the end of each mission, you must land your plane on the aircraft carrier. The game switches to landing mode and you can control your speed as well as the angle of your aircraft. The radar screen shows the current orientation of your plane as well as giving you recommendations such as “Speed Up!” or “Left! Left!” The idea is to get your plane as close to 200 altitude and 288 speed as you can when you reach the carrier. The game provides a moderate range of acceptable values that will allow you to land successfully so you don’t need to be exact. Too far off from those measurements will cause a crash that is shown in the landing cutscene and it will cost you a life, but if you are successful you get to watch yourself make a graceful landing.
The second, third, and final missions are long enough that you won’t be able to make it all the way through on a full tank of fuel, so in the middle of the mission you’ll hear an alarm indicating low fuel. When that happens, you press Start to call in a refueling tanker. When everything is clear, your jet automatically flies upward, the radar zooms in, and you see the tanker come into view dropping its refueling boom in front of you. There is an ‘X’ on the hood of your jet as shown on the radar screen and you must align your fighter properly to latch on and refuel your plane. This reloads all of your missiles too. This plays out very similar to the landing sequence although this time there’s no numerical range to aim for. It’s more visual and it requires more of a feel for it, but it is similar to getting a feel for landing. If you are unable to refuel the game will resume, however with not enough fuel to survive you will soon crash and lose a life. In a way it’s worse to miss refueling because you have to wait out the inevitable death.
The missions all play out typically the same way. You are approached by a number of enemy formations from the air, sea, or land. You can take them out with your weapons or you can dodge their attacks and keep moving forward. Many enemies are passive and are just there for points. Other fighters will attack with cannons that deal damage to your aircraft and some other fighters launch guided missiles of their own. They seek out your plane and they are fatal. One hit and you are a goner no matter how much damage your jet has suffered. You can maneuver your way around them or if you are really bold you can shoot them down with your cannon. It is practically essential to learn how to destroy enemy missiles to survive this game all the way to the end.
The first mission is a training mission that takes place above the clouds. No refueling is necessary and there are no ground targets so it is a good introduction. The second mission takes place over the ocean so there are boats and battleships to deal with below. The third mission is similar except it is over the desert and there are enemy jeeps and tanks to fight on the ground. The air attack gets more difficult here as well. The fourth mission is a nighttime mission and the difficulty is cranked up to the max. Expect a lot of evasive maneuvers and guided missiles.
Occasionally during the mission an enemy fighter will lock on to you from behind. When this occurs an alarm sounds and you see the enemy’s location in your radar screen. You must shake them off of you by moving from side to side. It takes a more rhythmic rocking back and forth to get them off. At the same time you can still be attacked from ahead so it can get a little frantic sometimes. If you can’t get them off they will shoot you down so getting rid of the rear enemy is always the priority.
Aside from the first mission, there is a target that you are required to take out as part of the mission. It’s a fancy way of saying there is a boss battle at the end. The target is stationary but it has a health meter that appears on screen and it take a lot of damage before being blown to bits. During the fight you are being attacked constantly by enemy fighters while enemies at the target are firing at you as well. Take out the target and your mission is successful after you land the plane of course.
This was my first time playing Top Gun. I don’t care much for flight simulators so it’s not a game that I would normally play. In fact I know I moved several games like this all the way to the bottom of my list for the blog. I only kept it on the normal part of my list since it is developed by Konami and they typically make great games.
Top Gun is a cheap, common game but it took me a really long time to acquire a copy for my collection. If memory serves I had over 500 unique NES carts before I owned Top Gun. I have owned the sequel Top Gun: The Second Mission since childhood and I had multiple copies of that game before I owned the original. It’s just one of those strange, loopy coincidences. Of course, as soon as I finally got one then they started pouring in from all the eBay lots I was purchasing at that time. I was up to six copies before I sold them all off.
Top Gun is a really hard game. My biggest struggle with the game was dealing with enemy guided missiles. At first, I was always getting hit by them while banking away as far as I could away from it. I eventually learned that I could dodge them by flying away from them either left or right while rocking up and down. It’s harder to hit a more randomly moving target. That strategy failed whenever an enemy straight ahead decided to fire a missile at me. Then I realized I could shoot them down but it took some serious practice to get the hang of it. If you miss then that pretty much spells the end of your fighter and your life. It gets worse. Starting in Mission 2 some enemies fire three guided missiles at once. This frustrated me so much! I did develop a strategy. The set of three missiles always come in the same formation: one high, one low, and one middle-right. I would destroy the top missile, then fly high and left to completely skip the bottom missile and do the up and down wiggle to dodge the right one. If the enemy is just a little bit to the left to start with, then I would have to destroy the top two missiles and dodge the bottom one. The bottom missile was almost never a factor, although one time I managed to destroy all three in a crazy moment of panic.
The real reason this game is so difficult is that you only have three lives to work with for the entire game. There are no extra lives and there are no continues. Not only do you have to contend with so many homing missiles and all the enemy fire, but you also need to learn how to refuel your plane as well as land your jet consistently. Every mistake is magnified. The only saving grace is that the game is relatively short. The missions tend to drone on for quite awhile because the pacing is slow, but the entire game can be beaten in under 30 minutes.
After much frustration and a bunch of attempts I finally managed to beat Top Gun. I wasn’t keeping track of how many tries it took before I won but I am estimating 15-20 attempts. The second mission is a large bump up in difficulty and that is where I cut my teeth on everything the game has to offer. I found the third mission easier than the one before, but the final mission was quite the challenge. The third time I made it to Mission 4 I was completely in the zone and I made it through to the boss with two lives remaining. I lost them both. I was really upset at that loss. By that point I was getting good enough to get to the final mission nearly every run. My real vice in all of this was the second mission. No matter what I did I always lost at least one life there. I said to myself that once I cleared Mission 2 without failure, then that would be my winning run. Wouldn’t you know it, I was right! I no-deathed the game up to Mission 4 only to lose two lives in the first half of the mission. I kept my cool, beat the final boss, and landed the plane without any problems. I’m sure I would have lost my mind if I failed to land the plane at the very end of Top Gun!
Since beating Top Gun I have learned a few additional things about it. The game loops once you beat the game and in my brief experience with it after winning it is indeed harder than the first run. I encountered more guided missiles than the first loop. However, according to the NES Game Endings FAQ there is no different ending upon beating the game again so I am not going to bother with it.
Another tip is that you can cheese your way through the game by flying up and right the entire time. Doing this will avoid all enemies and missiles so you will only have to deal with the refueling sequences, landing sequences, and the targets at the end of the mission. I didn’t try it so I don’t know for certain. Even if I knew about it before hand, I wouldn’t bother beating the game that way. I suffered through it the right way!
There is another ending of sorts to Top Gun that is quite a bit better and easier to achieve than the actual ending after Mission 4. If you are able to best the high score of 50,000 points, you are awarded the designation of Top Gun indicated by a screen that acts like a certificate of achievement. It’s pretty neat. I’ll include a capture of the screen from my best score during my winning run so you can see what it looks like!
From a technical standpoint, Top Gun is a well made game. It looks nice graphically and it controls and plays well, especially considering that it is one of the earlier NES game made. There is a variety of activities in the game to mix things up a bit. Overall, I don’t really care for it. The difficulty is a big turn off here, and the game eventually get monotonous after playing it over and over again. The first mission amounts to a forced five minute tutorial which is great for just starting out but it doesn’t take long for it to be so dull. This is not really my type of game anyway. Still, I consider beating Top Gun to be quite the achievement. I feel it’s the hardest game I’ve conquered so far. I hope it has prepared me well for playing the sequel whenever it comes up!