This simple shooter does not crank up the fun to the max as the name might suggest.
To Beat: Defeat the Dragon after Level 4
To Complete: Complete 3 loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed 3 loops
Played: 8/20/16, 8/25/16
My Difficulty: 3/10
Playing games at random like I am doing for this blog means that progression is going to be terribly unpredictable. Ikari Warriors and MagMax couldn’t be any more different in terms of time spent beating the game. While I am thankful that MagMax was a very welcome breather in terms of pushing toward the overall goal, the game itself was not all that interesting.
MagMax was released in the arcades in Japan in 1985. All versions were developed by Nihon Bussan. The arcade version was also published by the developer under the brand Nichibutsu. The NES port was released on the Famicom in March 1986. The US version was published by FCI and was not released until October 1988, nearly two and a half years apart from the Famicom release. The game also received ports to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC all in 1987.
MagMax is a side scrolling shooter. The story goes that aliens conquered the Earth and put the super-computer beast Babylon over the humans. The people fight back by creating a mech named MagMax that is their only hope to take back Earth.
The game has two somewhat interesting gimmicks going for it. The first feature is that as you play you collect and merge the different parts of MagMax to create a fully powered robot. You start off with a basic spaceship that eventually becomes the midsection of MagMax. You can attach the head and legs separately as you come across them. Each segment has its own gun adding more shots to the fray. There is also a wave beam gun that attaches to the head providing even more firepower. You are completely MagMax whenever all four pieces are put together.
The other feature is that there are two separate fields of play and you are able to switch between them periodically. The game starts on the surface and from time to time there will be warp holes that show up. You can choose to descend down the hole and continue play underground. Similarly there are warp holes underground that bring you back up to the surface. The surface has different enemies and obstacles than the underground. The other difference between the fields is in visual perspective. The surface is sort of halfway between side view and top down view while the underground is purely side view. No matter which side you choose, play always scrolls to the right.
When only the basic starting ship, it only takes one hit to lose a life. However, as you merge with the other parts of MagMax, both the head and the legs can be destroyed separately which lets you take a bullet and survive. You lose your extra firepower but you stay alive which is a fair tradeoff. It gives you a bit of a cushion to survive until finding other replacement parts to build back up to full strength. It should be noted that the wave beam gun gets destroyed along with the head if that part is lost.
The difference in perspective means that each field plays a little bit differently. On the surface, the full MagMax stands taller than all the enemies, so the bullets fire slightly downward and move forward across the ground. The enemies also fire across the ground, so the player hitbox is merely the bottom part of the MagMax. Bullets that appear to hit the top of MagMax actually travel behind it due to the perspective. The wave beam gun on the surface is a constant beam that drags along the ground in front of the player. This can be used to destroy enemies that are otherwise immune to standard shots.
The underground perspective plays by different rules than the surface. The most visible change is that having multiple parts attached gives the MagMax three distinct vertical levels of shooting the standard beam. In effect this is akin to a spread shot. The downside is that the hitbox is the exact size of the MagMax so when fully powered up the hitbox is three times larger than with the bare ship or on the surface. The wave beam gun underground provides a fireball that blasts across the screen cutting through all enemies in its path.
There are many different types of enemies to deal with. They are your typical nondescript robot ships for the most part all with different attack patterns. The surface tends to have more stationary targets, many of which are only vulnerable to the wave beam gun. The underground tends to have more waves of moving enemies that can be destroyed with any weapon. A few elements in the game have unique properties. There is an enemy type that fires a spread of cannonballs when it’s destroyed that can also defeat other surrounding enemies for bonus points. Underground there are stalactites that will fall to the ground when shot. If an enemy is hit by one of these on the way down it is destroyed for bonus points.
You start the game with two lives and you can earn more from points. There is an extra life at 30,000 points and another awarded at every 50,000 points beyond that. It does take some time to accumulate enough points to rack up lives but each one is worth it.
There are four levels in MagMax that blend seamlessly into the next during play. They are the forest, desert, sea, and automated city. At the end of the second and fourth levels you get to square off against Babylon himself. The battle is exactly the same both times and you will come across him on both the surface and underground. After the fight in the fourth stage there is a little bit further to go and then the game loops back to the beginning. Consider the game beaten when this loop point is reached.
This game was another new one for me. I didn’t have much trouble with it at all. In fact I beat the game on my very first try. I kept playing and ended up dying for good early on in the second loop. Even though I beat the game I wanted to take it a step further by playing an entire loop on the surface followed by another full loop underground. That way I get to experience the full content of the game. My second attempt was all I needed to complete that goal.
Having completed all of the surface followed by all of the underground, I can safely say that going underground is significantly more difficult than above. Almost all of the difficulty underground can be attributed to the larger hitbox of MagMax. When fully powered up, the spread firepower is excellent but with the large hitbox it doesn’t last very long. The enemies underground seem to swarm me more. I think MagMax moves slower underground but that may just be me. I did notice that having the legs increases the movement speed and I think that is more important to survival then having the head and wave beam gun. Overall the easiest way to beat the game is to stay above ground as much as possible.
A few days after beating MagMax I did a bit more research and found out that there is a small change even deeper into the game that I should see for myself. After completing three full loops of the game on one credit, the word “MEIGETSU” appears for a little while above the score counter. It is unclear exactly what this means or is supposed to indicate. It seems to translate to something like “harvest moon” or “great moon,” but I have no clue how that applies to MagMax at all. Either way, I went back and beat three loops so I could see the text. I did notice that the game got harder in the second and third loops, so it is possible that this message indicates that the difficulty is maxed out. I didn’t play a fourth loop to see if I could tell the difference. Anyway, now I think I have seen everything there is to see in MagMax.
The NES port of MagMax is really faithful to the arcade version. It looks and plays just about the same. From what I can tell there are only two noticeable differences. The surface view has a neat parallax scrolling effect in the arcade version where the bottom of the screen scrolls by a bit faster than the top of the screen. This effect is not present in the NES port. In the arcade version Babylon moves around a bit so his attacks are harder to dodge than in the NES version where the boss is stationary.
There is a neat minor Easter egg that I noticed right away when booting up MagMax for the first time. The default high score is set to 65,020 which is clearly a nod to the 6502 processor that the NES runs. I think that reference would have been lost on everyone when the game first came out.
I thought it was a bit difficult to pin an appropriate difficulty rating on MagMax. My decision of 3/10 was the first thing I thought off and I decided to make it stick. The game is very short clocking in at around 10 minutes. There are no continues and only a few lives, but the MagMax pieces doubling as an extra hit goes a long way toward extending each life. By staying on the surface and getting some practice it should not take very many attempts to complete one loop. It is not a cakewalk necessarily, but it is easy enough that 3/10 works I think.
It would be easy to cut MagMax some slack if it were released in the US much closer to the Famicom release. It’s not a great game for 1986 though it is acceptable, but the more than two year delay before the US release does not distinguish this game at all from its contemporaries. I know I would be disappointed if I got this game new in 1988. The good thing is now the game is both common and cheap, and it is much harder to be disappointed when both the acquisition cost and amount of time one would reasonably get out of it is so low. Overall this game is not special and it is fine to skip.