Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

taito

JAN
17
2018
0

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

A fun platformer with a somewhat unfortunate name.

Nice graphics AND catchy music!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/22/17 – 12/1/17
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Kiwi Kraze Longplay

I haven’t traveled all that much in my life. I have only flown a few times and never over the ocean. I guess I have just as much fun staying at home playing all these NES games. New Zealand seems like it would be a lovely place to visit if I ever decide to go overseas. The country is beautiful and many notable movies have been filmed there. It stands to reason that it would also make a great setting for a video game. It also makes sense that a game based in New Zealand would use the native kiwi bird as the basis for the protagonist. Kiwi Kraze is a fun game that is often overlooked among the glut of NES platformers.

The NewZealand Story started as an arcade game both developed and published by Taito and released in September 1988. The game was later ported to a wide number of home computers and consoles worldwide over the next few years. The NES version of the game was renamed to Kiwi Kraze, A Bird-Brained Adventure! in North America and is the only version of the game that was renamed. Kiwi Kraze was developed by Software Creations and published by Taito, and was released in March 1991. In Europe, the NES port retained the name The NewZealand Story and was published by Ocean sometime in 1991. The NewZealand Story was later included in the 2005 compliation Taito Legends. New Zealand Story Revolution is a Nintendo DS remake of the game released in 2007. That game was developed by Taito and published by Ignition Entertainment in North America.

In Kiwi Kraze, you play the role of the Kiwi bird named Tiki. Wally Walrus has captured Tiki and all his friends, but Tiki was the only one who managed to escape. Wally then sells all the Kiwi birds to various zoos across New Zealand, so Tiki sets off on a grand adventure to rescue all his friends, including his girlfriend Phee-Phee. Tiki’s journey spans five separate worlds, each containing four levels. In each level, one of Tiki’s friends is locked in a cage and you must reach and free them to move on to the next stage. You win the game after you have completed all twenty stages.

Yep, definitely New Zealand!

Kiwi Kraze is a side-scrolling platformer game. On the title screen, you can press Select to choose either a one-player or two-player game. It is alternating play so it’s not that useful. You use the D-Pad to move Tiki around during gameplay. Jump by pressing the A button. You can control the height of the jump a little bit by how long you hold the button. When descending, you can tap the A button to flap Tiki’s wings which slows down his fall. The B button is for attacking and the default weapon is a bow and arrow. You can fire quite a few of these straight-shooting arrows at one time to quickly mow down a row of enemies. Pressing Start to pause the game also displays a mini map overlayed on the screen that displays the relative size of the level, your current location, and the exit location. There are no walls or anything else displayed on the map, but it can be a handy reference at times to gently guide you in the right direction.

There are two main mechanics that distinguish Kiwi Kraze. The first is that Tiki can jump up through any floor. This must be a Taito thing because this is also how things work in Bubble Bobble. You can even jump through walls from underneath. You only land on a ledge successfully if Tiki isn’t stuck partway within a wall. When airborne within a wall, you are only allowed to move laterally away from the wall. Otherwise you will fall through the wall back to where you started. I know I’m not explaining it very well, but when you play the game for a little while it starts to make sense. These details of the movement are important because it has a direct effect on the level design. Stages scroll in all four directions. Moving sideways is straightforward, but it is much easier to climb to the top of the level than to get back down. The level design takes advantage of this by creating many paths that look closed off at a glance, but can be entered through some shrewd jumping. The stages also contain many winding pathways and often include multiple paths to reach the end of a level.

The other important mechanic is that Tiki can fly around the stages. Kiwis are flightless birds and Tiki uses balloons to fly. These can occasionally be found on their own, but most often you will acquire a balloon by stealing one from an enemy. Shoot the enemy and then jump on top of its balloon to take it for yourself, but aim carefully because you can also pop the balloon with your weapon if your aim is too low. You can even jump on a balloon while an enemy is still standing on it, which will knock the enemy to the ground and let you take control. Balloons fall under Tiki’s weight and you hold the A button to slowly raise the balloon and move upward. You can still use the D-Pad for horizontal movement and fire your weapon while flying. Press Down while resting on the ground to dismount. You can also lose your balloon if it gets popped by an enemy projectile or hits a spike. Any case where you require a balloon to progress is accompanied by an enemy spawn point so that you can commandeer a new balloon.

I’m gonna need that balloon, thanks!

Some levels contain water and Tiki can swim through these portions. He will don a snorkel while underwater and it’s pretty cute. At the bottom left of the screen, you will normally see your score counter alternating with your lives display. When underwater this display switches over to an air meter that slowly dwindles away. You swim with the D-Pad in all eight directions and the A and B buttons do nothing. Floating on the water’s surface allows you to breathe again, and you can also press the B button to spit water at an upward angle to attack enemies. Spitting water like this also refills your air meter much faster. For long water sections, you must find pockets of air and stop to take a breath before moving on.

There are many different kinds of enemies in Kiwi Kraze. Most enemies are not deadly to the touch, which is a departure from most platfomers. The ones that don’t hurt you will occasionally fire projectiles that do hurt. Bats are particularly sneaky because they toss out a projectile whenever you are directly underneath them, causing them to act like an enemy that kills you on contact. All other enemies telegraph their attacks in some way. Tiki is pretty fragile so a single hit kills him instantly, and you also lose lives by touching spikes and drowning.

One special enemy that can appear in any stage is the red devil. This is the invincible “hurry up” enemy that will chase you around if you are taking too long to finish a level. He can move freely through walls and you can’t get him to go away. You will receive an actual Hurry Up message prior to his appearance. Unlike most enemies of this type, he keeps a steady speed and you are able to keep away from him if you have enough space to maneuver.

There are several different items in the game. Some levels hold extra lives in the shape of a tiny Kiwi bird. The most common item you find are apples. These are dropped by defeated enemies and are worth 500 points each. If you come across a secret room, apples there are worth 5000 points. You need 100,000 points to earn an extra life. Sometimes an enemy will drop something other than an apple. These items are either different weapons or magic items.

Just about every enemy drops something.

There are three different weapons Tiki can use. The default is the bow and arrow which you can reacquire if you collect the red arrow powerup. The bombs are a downward-moving attack, and I find these have limited usefulness. The best weapon in my mind is the green laser gun. This gun fires straight shots like the arrows, but they move quickly and can also travel through walls. It’s great to blast an enemy on the other side of a wall so you don’t have to deal with them later. You keep your weapons until you lose a life or exit the stage.

There are four magic items. The magic book is a single-use screen-shaking attack that defeats all enemies. The magic watch freezes all enemies in their tracks for several seconds. Likewise, the magic staff gives you invincibility flashing for a little while. Perhaps the most interesting item here is the magic joystick. This gives you direct control over either your current or next balloon. You no longer have to toggle A to either rise or fall, rather you use just the D-Pad to move precisely in all directions. If you dismount the balloon or pop it, you lose the powerup. There are some locations where you can take shortcuts with some precise movements that are only possible with the magic joystick.

There are also different balloon types that have slightly different capabilities. The most common one looks like the head of a sheep, and you will use this one most of the time. There is a tall, red balloon that is very slow to accelerate upward, however the tradeoff is that this is the only balloon that is immune to spikes. Another balloon looks like a green ostrich and it accelerates the quickest. The last balloon looks like a carriage. This is the very first balloon you find naturally in the game, but you also get it automatically after you die while on a balloon. All balloons appear to have the same horizontal movement.

Most worlds end in a boss battle. The very first fight is the cleverest one, where you get swallowed and have to defeat the boss from the inside. That concept was also used in one of the bosses in Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, but Kiwi Kraze does it here first. The other bosses play more like a shootout and you have to land a lot of attacks to take them down. One world uses a complicated maze section in lieu of a boss fight. There is a least a little variety here, as well as using a different type of challenge than what is derived from the level design.

The best boss in the game.

Hidden within some levels are warps. These are invisible and are revealed by shooting their location several times. If you are firing arrows that vanish in mid-air, keep shooting. Then hop into the warp block to go to a new place! Some of these will lead to special rooms where you can find apples and maybe extra lives. Others take you to a location one or more levels ahead. You normally see a map of New Zealand with the level number before each stage. Take a warp, however, and you don’t see where you end up. Like extra lives, these are hidden in out of the way places. I only found a few of these and I’m sure there are many more that I didn’t find.

You begin Kiwi Kraze with three lives, and they can go by quickly. You can continue with a fresh set of lives, but you can only do this three times before being bumped back to the title screen. It’s the kind of game where you progressively learn the levels and usually get a little farther the more times you play. Kiwi Kraze has a wrinkle to this to make it more challenging. Typically, when you lose a life, you resume play from right where you died with an invincibility period. That safety net goes away when you reach World 4. For the rest of the game, a death sends you back all the way to the start of the stage. I was able to beat World 3 within my first few tries and then the rest of the game felt like wading through mud.

This was my first time playing Kiwi Kraze. I know the term is overblown these days, but I have considered the game a hidden gem. I bought my copy in the back half of collecting licensed NES games and it was one I was looking for specifically once I knew what it was all about. My cart is a very clean copy too, courtesy of a seller on Nintendo Age. I played through the first world right away and knew this was a game I would really like. But, it went back on the shelf like most others and I didn’t get into it until now.

Paths between spikes are slightly less dangerous than they look.

You might have noticed from the start of this post that it looks like I spent nearly six weeks playing Kiwi Kraze. Those dates are not what they seem! I had a little bit of free time on a Saturday afternoon and spent it on my first couple of attempts at the game. That following Monday was the beginning of the year-end tournament of an NES contest hosted on the Nintendo Age forums. That tournament lasted four weeks and I didn’t play Kiwi Kraze at all while that was going on. It didn’t take much to pick back up from where I started. I still needed around ten tries or so before I beat the game. Then another few days went by before I could record my full run.

I really like Kiwi Kraze. I think it’s a fun game with a lot of character. There are just a couple of things about it that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about. First off, the hitboxes seem a little off. Any balloon you ride on becomes the focal point of contact, and you can scratch your head on some spikes and enemies and not be hurt. Without the balloon, that kind of contact gets you killed. At least it feels that way. It’s just something you have to be actively aware of during play. Your instinct while on the balloon is to protect Tiki, but it needs to be on the balloon instead when gliding around spikes. The other thing is that the level design has a different feel that I don’t experience much. Most games like this rely on a larger 16×16 pixel tile, but the levels in Kiwi Kraze are based on tiny 8×8 tiles. This give more space for very detailed structures and challenges that are more puzzle-like. So you have these dense little areas connected together with wide open spaces where you can fly more freely, since the levels are still reasonably large. They chose to incorporate many narrow tunnels to connect all these pieces as well, not to mention the ability to jump through any floor like I already mentioned. I think it’s neat how it all comes together, but I can also see how this kind of design might be off-putting to someone else.

If you like platformers, cute characters, or both, I think you should try Kiwi Kraze. It’s a brightly colored game with neat, intricate design. The graphics are highly detailed with many neat drawings and backgrounds that add character. The downside here is that some of the tiny spikes don’t stand out. This music is catchy, which is no surprise given that the Follin brothers ported the music to the NES. However, they chose to use one song for every level in the game. It’s a good song, but it can get stale. The maze-like design might leave some players frustrated too. This is a flawed game for these few reasons and others, but I can easily look past them. I was really excited to spend some time with Kiwi Kraze, and I still have good feelings about this game now that I’ve seen it all for myself.

#63 – Kiwi Kraze

 
JAN
04
2018
0

#62 – Tiger-Heli

Another day, another overthrown terrorist regime.

The long gray screen before the title just screams quality.

To Beat: Finish Level 4
To Complete: Beat three loops
What I Did: Beat two loops
Played: 10/19/17 – 10/20/17
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Tiger-Heli Longplay

I have seen so many copies of Tiger-Heli in my life. It seems like every time I have seen someone’s NES collection, there is Tiger-Heli. Okay, maybe in a more curated collection you won’t see it, but as far as random NES games go it might as well be ubiquitous. I really wonder why there are so many copies of this game around. It’s not a flashy title, and not one that everyone has fond memories of. Maybe I am seeing the same set of copies passed around all the time. I will get to the bottom of it and see how Tiger-Heli plays on the NES. Then maybe these answers and more will be revealed!

Tiger-Heli was first released in arcades in 1985. The game was developed by Toaplan and published by Taito. In December 1986, the game was ported to Famicom. This port was developed by Micronics and published by Pony Canyon. The NES version came in September 1987 and was published in North America by Acclaim Entertainment. The NES box and manual also point to Taito, though they were not involved with the NES version. The European version of Tiger-Heli was delayed until early 1990. A spiritual sequel, Twin Cobra, was released in the arcades in 1987 and on the NES in 1990, and Twin Cobra II is its direct sequel that came out in arcades in 1996. That same year, both Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were released on a single disk for Playstation in Japan only named Toaplan Shooting Battle 1.

Tiger-Heli is a vertical scrolling shooter where you take control of an advanced “jetcopter” of the same name. This game has a typical shooter plot of one man attempting to defeat a terrorist regime. This time it is the fictitious country of Cantun with designs of taking over the world. The Tiger-Heli was specifically constructed as the ultimate stealth helicopter and is the only attack vessel that can sneak in to Cantun and destroy everything. The game takes place over four levels and if you can survive that long you have beaten Tiger-Heli.

Everyone remembers blowing up the houses just for fun.

The controls are simple. Use the D-pad to move Tiger-Heli in all eight directions. The B button fires missiles which are your standard unlimited weapon. Each shot is four tiny missiles wide and they only travel about half the height of the screen, but you can fire several shots at one time. The A button drops bombs which deal splash damage to a large area below Tiger-Heli. You can only hold two bombs at once and you can see them flanked on either side of your helicopter. If an enemy bullet hits a bomb, it will deploy automatically. This acts as a shield and it is typically worth the cost of a lost bomb. On screen, you see your score at the top, your remaining lives on the lower-left, and the number of bonus blocks you have destroyed on the lower-right. You begin the game with two extra lives and both bombs.

There are crosses on the ground that give you powerups when destroyed. They cycle between three different colors and the color determines what you get. Destroying either a red or gray cross generates a support helicopter at the top of the screen that drifts down slowly. Pick this up and now you have a small helicopter on your left that gives you extra firepower. The red support copter shoots to the side and the gray one fires straight ahead. You can collect a second one that flies to your right for triple firepower, and you can have both a red and a gray one at the same time. Support copters can be destroyed by enemy bullets, so you have to manage having a much larger hitbox to maintain full power. The green crosses generate a B powerup that restores a bomb when it’s collected. Acquiring another support helicopter or bomb when you are maxed out gives you bonus points.

A one-man wrecking crew!

There are also red bonus blocks in the stages. These are red diamonds that fade in and out and you can shoot them when they are visible. They give you points and add to the counter at the bottom. After you destroy ten bonus blocks you get an extra life. You also earn extra lives by reaching score milestones. You get your first extra life by reaching 20,000 points, and then you earn another life for every additional 80,000 points after that.

Enemies in the game are turrets, tanks, and boats. Turrets don’t move, tanks may or may not move, and boats always move. What they all have in common is their firing capability. Each enemy shoots at a steady pace and can only fire in eight directions. There is also a large tank that takes many bullets to destroy, and you get points for each shot landed so you can really rack up the score. There are many types of non-violent structures that you can blow up for points just because, such as cars, buildings, train cars, etc.

There are four levels in Tiger-Heli, and each one ends by landing automatically on a helipad. Here you are awarded 5000 bonus points for each support helicopter and bomb you have. At the start of the next stage, you get your bombs replenished. You also get your bombs back after you take a death. Sadly, there is no ending to the game and you may keep looping over the game until you lose all your lives. Just like with Sky Shark, loops begin at Stage 2.

Shoot the red blocks to help gain extra lives.

This was my first time trying to beat Tiger-Heli. I was one of those weird kids that did not own a copy of the game until adulthood. I had friends who owned the game and I did get to play it some, but it wasn’t a game that we played very much. I was familiar with the first stage or so, but that’s all.

I had some free time after lunch one day and decided to try out Tiger-Heli just to see what I was up against. Turns out that wasn’t much, for I beat all four levels on my first try. I don’t think Tiger-Heli is exactly an easy game, but I picked up on it quickly. The next day I played a practice run, and then right after that I recorded my video. On the practice run I reached the beginning of the third loop, but I didn’t quite make it that far on video. The first loop is not that bad, but the difficulty picks up fast the second time around. The enemy’s rate of fire is much faster and therefore it is harder to avoid bullets and line up a shot. The little bit I played of the third loop was even faster. I suspect the third loop is the difficulty cap and if you can complete that you have mastered Tiger-Heli. I could have pushed myself to beat that third loop, but I’m satisfied with completing two loops and moving on to the next game on my enormous list.

The basic strategy for Tiger-Heli takes advantage of the enemies’ poor aiming capabilities. Enemies fire toward you but only in eight directions, so the idea is to sit inside the areas where they are unable to hurt you. Once they fire and miss, you then have a brief window to line up and destroy them. I found the red support helicopters quite useful because they fire sideways and then you can approach the bad guys from either the sides or below. The quicker you can take out enemies, the easier time you have dodging other attacks.

The game is very flickery and it’s virtually impossible to get decent screenshots when there is a lot going on. Case in point!

Here’s a fun little side note. As I mentioned earlier, Toaplan created the “Tiger” trilogy of Tiger-Heli, Twin Cobra, and Twin Cobra II, and the first two games received NES ports. I discovered this while I was writing up my review on Sky Shark a little while ago. One of my quirks of this project is that I switched games around on the master list so that sequels always come after I have played the previous installments. In this case, I had no idea Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were related at all. I normally avoid looking at the full list as much as possible, but here I had to see where both games landed on the list and swap them if necessary. Of course, Twin Cobra originally slotted here at Game #62 instead, so I had to switch them. I ended up with a free peek just a few slots ahead by coincidence. I also know now where Twin Cobra will appear on my list. I won’t spoil when that will be, but let’s just say it will be a very long time before I get around to it.

Micronics has a reputation for creating poor ports of NES games, but I think Tiger-Heli is one of their better ones. Now it’s not a great game, but it plays just fine. The gameplay seems to resemble the arcade version close enough. The graphics are a step down from the arcade version, but are passable on the NES. The music is neither notable nor annoying. Gameplay is on the slower side, but there are no performance issues like slowdown. There is a massive amount of flickering whenever there’s a lot going on, but they seemed to work around it about as well as they could without some of the more advanced techniques programmed into later NES games. I may sound a little down on Tiger-Heli, but the fact is that it is a simple game that is competent on the one hand and unexciting on the other. According to Steve Kent’s book The Ultimate History of Video Games, Tiger-Heli on NES sold over a million copies. That’s astounding to me. It also answers why I’ve seen the game so frequently. Today, it’s nothing more than a filler NES title, but you could do much worse than playing Tiger-Heli. Besides, you probably already own it!

#62 – Tiger-Heli

 
SEP
25
2017
0

#52 – Sky Shark

If only it were literally a sky shark!

Good music and developer info works for me!

To Beat: Finish Level 5
Played: 6/6/17 – 6/12/17
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
Video: Sky Shark Playthrough

Today’s game is a port of an arcade shooter. I have covered a few arcade ports of shooters already. One of them is MagMax, which although it was true to the arcade game, it was ported far too late and wasn’t that much fun to begin with. On the other extreme, I played Gyruss and found the expanded NES port to be a better experience than the arcade version. BreakThru sits somewhere in between the two. It was like the arcade game, but was a decent port and reasonably fun to play. Of those three games, Sky Shark sits pretty close to BreakThru.

Flying Shark is an arcade shoot-em-up released in 1987. It was developed by Toaplan and was published in North America by Romstar. The game was ported to many different home computer systems in Japan, North America, and Europe. Flying Shark was renamed to Sky Shark in North America. Toaplan also developed the 1989 sequel to this game called Fire Shark. The NES version of Sky Shark was released in September 1989. This port was developed by Software Creations, and Sky Shark was their first NES game. Despite being based in England, Sky Shark on NES was only released in North America. You may also remember them as the developer of Pictionary that I played last year. The NES version was published by Taito, who also published the arcade version of Flying Shark in Japan.

Sky Shark is a top-down vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of the best fighter in the best squadron of the US forces in World War II. He is given the nickname of the Sky Shark, and according to the comic in the game’s manual, even his plane is painted to look like a flying shark. I guess the name makes sense now! Your task is to fly through enemy forces and rescue your POWs. The mission is broken up into five stages separated by landing your aircraft. Don’t worry, the game does this for you. Survive through all five levels and you have beaten Sky Shark.

Plenty of planes and tanks early on in the game.

This is a simple game with equally simple controls. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. Press A to fire your machine guns. Ammo is unlimited, but there is no autofire so you have to mash away at the fire button. The B button drops bombs. The Start button begins the game and pauses the action during play. Select is used to choose between one or two player mode on the title screen. Two-player mode is alternating play. That’s all there is to it!

Each aircraft comes equipped with three bombs, and dropping one inflicts heavy damage over a large portion of the screen. Bomb blasts absorb bullets too, so they can get you out of a tight spot if used defensively. Some enemies leave behind a B icon when defeated. Fly over this icon to collect an additional bomb. You can hold up to eight bombs, so you might as well use one before trying to grab a ninth. If you are interested in getting a high score, save up some spare bombs because at the end of each level you earn 3,000 points for each bomb in your inventory.

During play, the status bar is located at the bottom of the screen. You can see the current score for both players in addition to the high score. Underneath the score, you see icons that indicate how many additional fighters and how many bombs you have. Like bombs, you can have up to eight lives. There are no extra lives found on the battlefield, but you earn one every 50,000 points. It’s pretty unlikely you would reach the maximum number of lives, but it could happen!

Red planes are about the only welcome sight in Sky Shark.

One recurring feature in the stages is a wave of eight planes. They all fly in together in one of several formations and leave the screen quickly. Destroying all eight planes of the wave gives you a bonus. If the planes are yellow, you earn 1,000 points, but if the planes are red they leave behind an S powerup. The S flies around in loops on the screen so it can be tricky to grab, but you want to grab it because it powers up your machine gun. You can upgrade your weapon six times total. The first upgrade increases your gun from two shots to four, and you eventually work your way up to the fully powered gun giving you seven shots at once with a slight spread. Any time you die by taking a hit, your weapon reverts to the basic double shot. The S powerups tend to be spread out, so it takes a long time to power up all the way if you can survive that long. The sad thing is that the best weapon is not nearly as powerful as you would like.

Both the levels and enemies are generic, World War II styled elements. The stages do not distinguish themselves very well. Each level is composed of several of the same kinds of locations stitched together. There are jungle, ocean, and desert segments dispersed throughout the stages. The best level type is the trainyard area. Each level ends in an airstrip where you land the plane and get your bomb bonus. The enemies are all planes, tanks, and boats. In the ocean sections, you will pass by huge ships with cannons that you can destroy. Tanks emerge from the sides of the screen and behind buildings, and plane formations fly in often. There is not much variety overall.

There are a few bosses in the game. The Super Tank shows up at the end of the first stage. You don’t have to blow it up though because it will eventually run out of driving room and you can leave it behind. There is an upgraded version of the Super Tank that appears in a few places in the middle of stages, and just like the first boss they don’t follow you very long. There are also some large planes that act the same way, but it’s not exactly correct to call them bosses. There is also a giant final boss near the end of the fifth level.

Giant planes and battleships together at last!

When you are shot down, you resume play from the nearest checkpoint. Each stage has several hidden checkpoints, and I’d say the length between them is just about right. Some areas are harder than others so a checkpoint is a nice relief. When you run out of lives, you can continue up to three times. On the Game Over screen, you see the number of credits remaining and a countdown timer with some ominous music for an accompaniment. Press Start to continue your game from the nearest checkpoint, just as if you lost a life. You do lose your score when you continue. If you run out of credits or choose not to continue, you are taken to the high score screen where you can enter your initials.

This was my first time playing Sky Shark. I don’t remember how I acquired the cart, but it is a common game that I probably got in a bulk lot somewhere. It’s worth about $3 today, so hopefully I didn’t pay much for it. At least I knew it was a shoot-em-up, so that alone got me interested to see what it was all about.

Sky Shark is a tough game. I spent about a week playing the game over maybe a dozen attempts before I reached the end. I wanted to beat the game without continuing, but by the time I beat it I was ready to move on. The game overwhelms you early on with several tanks and aircraft at once, many of which fire aimed shots at you. Tanks appear and start firing right away, so you are forced to be on your toes and keep moving. You really need to know where enemies appear to stand a chance. Enemies have a bad habit of firing off one last shot just before they despawn off the sides of the screen. Even though the enemy bullets are large and change colors, they are often hard to see in the thick of the fight. Your only gun fires mostly straight, limiting its effectiveness, and bombs tend to be used to extend a life just to reach the next checkpoint. Thankfully the game has a continue system, otherwise I would have rated the game either an 8 or a 9.

Busy backgrounds mean it is hard to identify everything going on.

Sky Shark does not have an ending. Once you fight the final boss and reach the end of level five, the game loops seamlessly. In a small twist, the game restarts from level two, so if you keep looping the game you will just repeat levels two through five without every playing level one again. Luckily, there is a way to tell if you have finished the game. I left this little tidbit out intentionally until now. When you enter your initials on the high score screen, there is also a two-digit value displayed on the right-hand column. I can’t confirm this for certain, but that value appears to be a percentage of how much of the game was completed.

There are two quirks about this value that make me doubt my theory a bit. The first thing is that this value is more heavily weighted toward the end of the game. For example, you could Game Over deep in level two and only get a value in the teens when you would expect that you’ve completed nearly 40% of the game by then. It seems to increase more quickly at the end of the game. The other thing about it is that it never reaches 100 but stops at 99. I haven’t seen any evidence that you can achieve 100 here, so the assumption is that a value of 99 is the max value and indicates that you have seen all there is to see in Sky Shark. Capturing a picture of the final landing doesn’t seem to be conclusive, so I also took a photo of the high score screen.

Perhaps the best element of Sky Shark is the music. Tim Follin is the game’s composer and he is one of the best on the NES. I gushed over his music in my Pictionary review. While he does not hit the highs of that sweet Pictionary title theme, the music is still very enjoyable. I think the title screen music is my favorite. It is also played during some of the levels, so you get to hear it often enough.

Aside from the music, Sky Shark is a mediocre game. It does nothing in gameplay to set itself apart from other NES shooters. There’s not much variety here. The levels are generic, and so are the enemies and bosses. There aren’t many enemy types, and they all shoot the same type of bullet. I’ve already outlined the problems in gameplay in light of its difficulty. Now, Sky Shark is not a bad game per say. It controls well, the hitboxes are fair, and there aren’t any glitches to speak of. The graphics are a downgrade from the arcade version, but are still fine for the NES. It’s a game that doesn’t quite match up in quality when compared to other releases of its time. I expect a little more technical prowess from an NES game from 1989, especially when Taito is attached to it.

#52 – Sky Shark

#52 – Sky Shark

 
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