Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

natsume

SEP
11
2017
0

#51 – Dragon Fighter

Don’t just fight a dragon, become one!

You can’t start until you see this title screen twice. Lame!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game in the secret hard mode
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 5/19/17 – 5/22/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Dragon Fighter Hard Mode

It’s funny. I just finished playing through Dragon Warrior, and then the next game to come up on the list is Dragon Fighter. Don’t let the names fool you, for these two games are really quite different. Dragon Fighter is a side scrolling action game, not an RPG. Dragon Warrior is an early NES game, while Dragon Fighter is a later release. While Nintendo Power gave away Dragon Warrior, Dragon Fighter is a hard to find game that is very expensive now. Finally, Dragon Warrior is really well known, and Dragon Fighter is still pretty obscure. While I can’t get the price down on a cartridge, I can help make this fun game a little more well known.

Dragon Fighter was first released on Famicom in August 1990. The game was developed by Natsume and published by Towa Chika. Natsume developed a few action games on the NES, including S.C.A.T. which I have already completed. Towa Chika did not publish any games outside the US. Perhaps the most infamous game they published is the Famicom platformer A Week of Garfield. Dragon Fighter was brought over to the NES in January 1992. The NES version was published by Sofel, who brought only five games to the NES.

Dragon Fighter is a side-scrolling action game. An evil warlock named Zabbaong attacks the land of Baljing, who are known as a peaceful people with a dragon statue as a symbol of their good nature. The Dragon Spirit had given the people the dragon statue, and now under the enemy attack he brings the statue to life as a fierce warrior. You play as this warrior as you strike back again Zabbaong.

Don’t run away! The green guys aren’t that scary.

This is a relatively straightforward game. In fact, this is a pure horizontal scroller with the playfield only scrolling to the right, just like Super Mario Bros. As the fighter, you wield a sword and can perform basic techniques. Use the D-pad to walk around. You can crouch by holding Down. Press A to jump, and B to swing your sword forward. You can swing your weapon when standing, jumping, or crouching. If you hold down the B button, you will start to flash. Hold it for long enough, and then release the button to perform a charge attack.

The main feature of Dragon Fighter is that you can become a flying dragon. At the top of the screen there are two meters. The top one is your health meter and the bottom one is called the metamorph meter. For each enemy that you defeat with the sword, you will add to the metamorph meter. Enemies beaten by charge attacks do not fill the meter. Once this meter is at least halfway full, then it will start flashing indicating you can morph into a dragon. Hold Up and jump with A, and at the top of your jump you switch over to a flying dragon.

In dragon form, you can fly around in all eight directions and you can fire with B. You always face to the right in this form. Also, the screen begins to scroll forward automatically as your metamorph meter dwindles away. You get more firepower and can avoid attacks much easier as a dragon, so this form is very useful. You can switch back to the fighter at any time by holding Down and pressing A. Keep in mind that you may need to fight more enemies in fighter form to build the metamorph meter back up before you can switch back to a dragon again. If the meter runs out, then you will automatically shift back into the fighter.

Sometimes a defeated enemy will drop a helpful item. There are only a few item drops. The power pearl will restore a couple points of health, while the larger pearl pot will restore eight health units. The power ring wipes out all enemies on the screen. Finally, the dragonweed, shaped like a dragon’s head, will fill up eight points in the metamorph meter.

With the dragon, you can fly over enemies.

In some of the stages, you will find powerups labelled G, R, and B. These are always found in the same location and are not dropped by enemies. Picking up one of these icons will change your fighter into the Green fighter, Red fighter, or Blue fighter. Each color fighter has both a distinct charge attack and dragon attack. The default fighter at the start of the game is the Green fighter. Your charge shot is a green ball that travels to the right, and the dragon form gets a three-way spread fire. The Red fighter’s charge shot is a set of three fireballs that arc in the air and fall down. The Red dragon’s attack is a fireball that spreads out when it hits the ground similar to the holy water in Castlevania. The Blue fighter gets a homing charge shot and the Blue dragon can fire two homing shots.

At the end of each stage is a boss battle. These include a fight with a werewolf, a giant centipede, and a large skeleton with floating hands. The metamorph meter is emptied upon starting the next stage, so don’t be afraid to use the dragon form for the fight. When you defeat the boss, it will drop a staff that you acquire to end the level. Collecting the staff increases the size of your health meter and also restores some health for the next stage. A little spoiler here: The sixth and final stage plays entirely as a horizontal scrolling shooter and you are forced into dragon mode for the whole thing. It culminates in a final boss battle with Zabbaong.

There are no extra lives in Dragon Fighter, so when all your health is depleted it is Game Over. You do have three continues. However, using one sends you back all the way to the start of the stage. Even if you reach the boss and die, you have to replay the entire level. This is the kind of game that you learn over multiple plays.

This was my first time playing through Dragon Fighter. It was among the final 30 games or so I bought for my NES licensed collection, mostly because the game is hard to find and expensive. I bought it in February 2015, and at the time the game was selling for around $100 for a loose cart. I explored many avenues looking for these final games, and for this one I ended up taking a chance on an Amazon listing with no pictures. The cart was only $50, but the game was badly cracked. It was punctured right over the label causing attached shards of plastic to be pushed into the cart shell. I opened the cart up and pushed the damaged part outward to make it flatter. It’s a shame because the cart is in really nice shape otherwise. It does look great on the shelf at least! As of August 2017, a Dragon Fighter loose cart sells in the $250-$300 range, so I’m happy with my choice.

Deploy the dragon strategically during boss battles.

Beating the game wasn’t too much of a challenge for me. I ended up beating the game the first night in over two hours with a few practice runs. A lot of it was figuring out when to deploy the dragon and which color fighter to use. There is a little bit of platforming, but most of the game centers around enemy combat. I think I’m pretty good at seeing the enemy patterns and figuring out how to react. Some fortuitous item drops also came in handy! I gave the game a difficulty rating of 6/10 because of the limited continues and no checkpoints when you use one. I maybe should have rated it higher because I think many players are going to have more of a struggle with it, but I’ll stick with my choice because I figured it out so quickly.

This is not all Dragon Fighter has to offer. The game has an unlockable hard mode. When you beat the game and leave it on the ending screen for a little while, a cheat code is displayed. Correctly inputting it at the title screen changes the copyright text from blue to red, indicating hard mode is activated. There are two major differences in hard mode. First, there are no item drops. This makes health preservation critical as you can only heal once per level after defeating a boss and grabbing the staff. The other difference is that for each enemy you kill in dragon form, a homing bullet fires as the enemy’s death explosion finishes. As far as I recall there were no further changes to the game. It’s a good mode that tweaks how you approach levels. I spent a separate night beating hard mode. For some reason, I was determined to beat the game on hard mode without dying, and I’m happy to report that I accomplished it. It’s one of my better achievements captured on video.

I know the term is overblown to NES fans, but Dragon Fighter is indeed a hidden gem. It’s a straightforward but competent hack and slash action game with the ability to morph into a dragon, so there’s already a lot going for it. The graphics are well done, the music is good, the gameplay is solid, the bosses are fun to fight, the challenge is appropriate, and the optional hard mode is well thought out. Dragon Fighter checks most of the boxes from what you would expect out of one of the most expensive NES games. The price is obviously a major barrier if you want the authentic experience, but if you have a Powerpak or play on an emulator, Dragon Fighter is a game that is worth checking out.

#51 – Dragon Fighter

 
OCT
05
2016
1
S.C.A.T. Box Cover

#27 – S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Action Team

You would think this game stinks, but it’s actually really fun!

It's an ordinary title screen, but the introductory cutscene is really nice!

It’s an ordinary title screen, but the introductory cutscene is really nice!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game with each character
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/30/16 – 8/31/16
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10

This is one NES game that stands out almost completely because of its unfortunate name. It’s also known based on the high price tag a loose copy of the game commands. The going rate in October 2016 is around $120 for just the cart and with NES game prices showing no sign of slowing down that price likely will be outdated in a matter of months. S.C.A.T. fits the profile of a high value NES cart as it is both a late run title and a quality game.

S.C.A.T is interesting in that it has three different names depending on the region where it was released. The Famicom version is called Final Mission and it was released in June 1990. The game was localized for North America as S.C.A.T. in June 1991. The game was renamed once again to Action in New York for its European release sometime in 1992. The game was developed by Natsume and also published by Natsume in both Japan and the US. The publisher for Action in New York is Infogrames. I have found several claims that Action in New York was also released in Australia and published there by Konami, however I cannot find solid evidence to back up those claims. As far as releases go, S.C.A.T also saw Virtual Console releases on Wii, 3DS, and Wii U in both North America and PAL territories.

S.C.A.T is a side scrolling shoot-em-up. The story goes that aliens led by Vile Malmort are planning to invade Earth through an “Astrotube” connected to New York City and the Special Cybernetic Action Team (abbreviated of course as S.C.A.T.) was formed to combat this invasion. You play the role of one of two S.C.A.T members and you can choose either the blue clad Arnold or the red clad Sigourney. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how those character names may have been inspired! Both characters play the same so the choice is just cosmetic. This game has a two player simultaneous mode where controller #1 is Arnold and #2 is Sigourney.

This is my second shooter game with a man that flies around!

This is my second shooter game with a man that flies around!

The game play feels reminiscent of Burai Fighter that I played earlier this year. The player sprites in both games are an armor-wearing human wearing a jetpack and the character can fly freely in eight directions. In both games the levels are auto scrolled and change direction periodically however the level is laid out. Here is where the games diverge somewhat, but this is the general idea of how both games play.

A unique feature of S.C.A.T. is the inclusion of two attack orbs that constantly swing back and forth in half circles, one above and the other below the player. The character’s primary weapon can only be fired either left or right, but the orbs fire their own shots in a wide range of directions both upward and downward depending on where they sit relative to the player. They can fire straight up or shoot at an angle either forward or backward. This is really useful for targeting enemies along walls and in hard to reach spots. Furthermore, the orbs can be locked in place at any time by pressing the A button. You will have to use good timing during combat to lock them to the angle you want. They can be unlocked by pressing A again, allowing them to resume their arcs. The key to success in S.C.A.T. is to get the hang of being able to lock the orbs in the optimal direction so that you can attack any threat in firing range.

There are item pickups that will help power up Arnold and Sigourney. These are represented by gray squares with a letter written on them. The L powerup changes the standard gun into a laser that can be auto-fired by holding the B button. It can cut through walls although not consistently so, limiting its usefulness. The W powerup is a wide beam that shoots a tall but powerful shot that can hit multiple targets just because the shot is so large. The B powerup is a bomb shot that generates an explosion on contact that can deal extended damage to stationary targets and anything that flies into the explosion. You can only have one of these weapons at once, so any other powerup will replace the current weapon. There are a couple of other non-weapon powerups. The S powerup increases the movement speed, and the R powerup restores two points of health.

Two player co-op is always an excellent feature.

Two player co-op is always an excellent feature.

You begin the game with six bars of health. When shot you lose a bar of health, so you are able to take some hits before being killed. However, you can be crushed by the stage hazards or pinned against the wall by the screen scrolling which is always instant death. If you die it is Game Over but you may continue at the start of the stage and there are infinite continues. The screen displays up to eight points of health but it is possible to get more than that with some good dodging and some health powerups.

S.C.A.T. has five levels each with a boss battle at the end:

Stage 1 is the New York City ruins. Despite the theme of a wrecked iconic city, this level is a good introductory level that is not too difficult so you can get the hang of positioning the orbs. The level winds around skyscrapers and such which demonstrates just how small you are. The end of the stage has you blowing up the core of a large battle tank.

This is one of many large scale bosses in the game.

This is one of many large scale bosses in the game.

Stage 2 is the Subterranean Realm. You wind through underground corridors and the enemy attack steps up a bit. One enemy of note is an excavation drone that sort of acts like an arm rising out of the ground that reaches out to you. When you destroy it the pieces fly outward that you also have to dodge. The boss is a large worm that winds around the screen and only its head is vulnerable. This boss happens to be very similar to the boss at the end of Stage 2 in Burai Fighter. It must be coincidence!

Stage 3 is the Astrotube. The level is mostly comprised of a very long vertical section where you fly up the Astrotube from New York up to the aliens. When you get settled into the tube the scrolling goes super fast for awhile and it’s a great effect. The boss I guess is some kind of large enemy base where you have to blow up all the weak spots that also fire away at you.

Stage 4 is the Battleship. To me this is the coolest level in the game. It takes place outside of this gigantic enemy dreadnaught and you fly around the outside of it while destroying all the cannons and enemy hatches that sit along the exterior of the ship. The boss appears to be the back engine of the ship and you need to destroy all of the cores.

This is just a tiny corner of this huge battleship.

This is just a tiny corner of this huge battleship.

Stage 5 is the Orbiting Platform. This level has a couple of nasty gimmicks that set it apart in difficulty from the rest of the game. There are diagonally oriented cannons that intermittently fire off very long laser beams. The shots reflect off of the walls so you have to be mindful of where they end up so you can sit in the safe spots. In some places they bounce several times before eventually landing off screen and in some spots there are more than one to work with at a time. There are also crushers that kind of slowly work their way up and down and you have to fly through when they leave you enough space. They don’t seem like much of a threat since they move slowly, but if you touch the end of them you die instantly. The final boss is Vile Malmort himself.

I mentioned earlier that S.C.A.T. is an expensive game and unfortunately for me it is one I had to pony up and pay retail price to acquire. This was one of the last games I needed to buy to finish off the licensed NES set and at that point stumbling into a copy for a great price was unlikely. I wish I had kept better collecting records, but for this game it turns out I gleaned some information out of some emails with a very good friend of mine. S.C.A.T. was the 12th to last licensed NES cart I bought for my set and I won it in an eBay auction for a little over $80 shipped in March 2015. That was a decent price at that time and in light of current pricing I can’t really complain.

The wide beam rips through enemies like butter!

The wide beam rips through enemies like butter!

S.C.A.T. was a new completion for me. As usual, I had not played it before aside from cart testing. I was aware of the game and I knew it would be one I would like. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy game, but I managed to beat the whole game on my first night with a few continues. I found out early on that the wide beam weapon is clearly the best weapon in the game. Not only does it cover a large area in its path but it also destroys larger enemies in less time than the other two weapons. It definitely helped me beat the game on the first night. I think the whole game took about an hour to finish and about half that time was spent on the final stage alone. Those lasers required some memorization to clear and the last boss is difficult to avoid taking damage. Other than that I found the game to be a romp, but it was fun while it lasted. The ending was pretty cheesy, and that is something I have noticed with a few NES games I’ve done already.

Now for a tiny little spoiler! After I beat the game I checked out the trusty NES Ending FAQ and it states that the ending varies a bit different depending on which character you play with. I figured since the game was short enough it wouldn’t be unreasonable to play through it again to see the other ending. The second time through S.C.A.T. I only died once on the final stage. I’m sure I clear it without dying pretty easily if I wanted to. Back to the endings, the FAQ says that the ending changes again if you beat it in two-player mode. So if you want to see everything you will have to beat the game three time in total. Since I play alone I am fine seeing just the two single player endings. I believe the differences are only in dialogue so it’s not like I missed out on much anyway.

The lasers are a real nuisance on top of the other enemy attacks.

The lasers are a real nuisance on top of the other enemy attacks.

There are some differences between the various versions of the game. The Famicom Final Mission has some significant differences than S.C.A.T. For starters, the game is much harder on Famicom than NES. You start with only three health instead of six, and taking damage causes you to lose your weapon back to the default. S.C.A.T. lets you keep your powerup until either you die or grab a new one. The orb shots are much weaker and they do not automatically orbit the player. Instead you have to aim them by press A and inching either left or right. When you do that they slide behind you a bit and that’s how you set the aim. Press A again to lock them into place just like in S.C.A.T. Final Mission does not show the map screen in between levels like S.C.A.T. does, and Final Mission has both playable characters as men instead of having both male and female players. Finally the introductory cutscenes are different. The ones in Final Mission are much darker as they show the annihilation of New York.

The changes between S.C.A.T. and Action in New York are minor. The characters were renamed Silver Man and Spark, and the team is called S.A.T. instead of S.C.A.T. The title screen was also changed obviously. Other than that the game play is the same as the US version.

S.C.A.T. would be an easy game to recommend if it weren’t for the high price tag. Thankfully it is still on Virtual Console as that version is much more affordable. If you like shoot-em-ups then you will like this game. The graphics, sound, and gameplay are top notch, the difficulty is fair, and you can even play through it with a friend if you are inclined. I just wish they had picked a better name for the US release!

S.C.A.T. Ending Screen

#27 – S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Action Team