Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#55 – Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode

Demonstrating that assassins for hire must be versatile to be effective.

The intro screens are even better than this title screen.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/24/17 – 7/27/17
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode Longplay

When I was a kid, I would read whatever gaming magazine or tip guide I could get my hands on. Golgo 13 was a game that would show up often and it always looked like a fascinating game, but maybe too advanced for my age. Later, when I got a copy to try, I didn’t really give it much of a chance. I wrote it off as not my style of game, and I don’t think I was ready for it anyway. Now I’m old enough to give it a fair shake. Golgo 13 is rough around the edges, but it turned out to be a fun game with significant variety.

Golgo 13 is a Japanese manga series written by Takao Saito. It centers around the assassin for hire Golgo 13, who is also known by his pseudonym Duke Togo. The manga began in October 1968 and it is still an ongoing series nearly 50 years later. The series has expanded into various other forms of media, such as a live-action movie, two animated movies, an animated TV series, and several video games.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an NES game released in North America in September 1988. It was published and developed by Vic Tokai. It is both the first NES game published by Vic Tokai as well as the first Vic Tokai game I have played for this project. The Famicom version of the game is the original version, released in March 1988. In Japan, it was named Golgo 13: Dai 1 Shou: Kamigami no Tasogare. There is also a sequel on the NES named The Mafat Conspiracy, which I will cover in the future.

You might as well just fire away.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is an espionage action game. You play the role of Golgo 13 who is framed for the explosion of a helicopter containing a biological weapon named Cassandra-G. A vaccine and plans for Cassandra-G were taken from the wreckage and Golgo 13 is blamed for the whole thing. An international organization named FIXER believes that the DREK empire is ultimately responsible for the event. The FIXER group recruits Golgo 13 to investigate a lead on recovering the vaccine, eventually leading him to assassinate the leader of DREK.

This game takes on several play styles that appear as needed through the course of the game. The first of these is the horizontal side-scrolling mode where you directly control Golgo 13. Here you use the D-Pad to walk left and right. You may encounter people on the streets. Some pass by, some will talk to you, and others are enemy agents that will shoot at you. Contrary to most action platformers, you use the B button to jump and the A button to attack. At first you don’t have any weaponry, so A deploys a jump kick instead. After defeating an enemy, you will acquire bullets and you shoot them with A instead of kicking. You can kick by pressing A while jumping, or you can shoot with A by standing on the ground. You can also press Up to either enter doorways or progress to other areas you see in the background.

In all play modes, on the top left of the screen you will see two displays. The first is labelled L and this is your health meter. You begin with the maximum 200 health that dwindles away like a slow timer. You also lose health when you take damage from enemies. The second display is noted with the letter B and this indicates how many bullets you have. For every enemy you defeat, you automatically gain both health and bullets. How much you recover differs by enemy. You can hold as many as 400 bullets so you are encouraged to shoot everything.

This first-person mode shows up all the time in Golgo 13.

As you move around in most modes, sometimes a gun will rise from the bottom of the screen or an explosion will appear in front of you. This engages the play mode called pan and zoom. In this mode, the action switches to a first-person perspective and you control a crosshair. Use the D-Pad to move the crosshair in all eight directions and press A to shoot. The screen scrolling loops all the way around to the left and right, and also scrolls partway upward. At the bottom of the screen, you see an indicator showing one or more enemy types and how many of each enemy type there are. You must defeat them all to continue play in the prior mode. There is also a meter that shows which compass direction you are aiming. When there is only one enemy remaining, arrows are shown indicating the direction of the final enemy threat. Some enemies will appear for a brief time and fly off in the distance, and others stay on and keep attacking. Some enemies fire missiles at you that you can shoot before they hit you. They do a lot of damage so it is best to shoot them first if you can.

Another recurring feature in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode are the cutscenes. You find these when you enter certain locations. They always begin with a close-up of Golgo 13 facing the screen. Press A and he will turn toward the background. If no one is there, play goes back to the previous screen. Otherwise a person will walk up and start talking to you. At the end of each text block you are prompted to press either A or B. The prompt for A means press A to advance to the next block of text. The prompt for B indicates the end of the cutscene, so pressing B will return you to the action.

Golgo 13 also gets to assume control of a helicopter, and this play mode is like a horizontal scrolling shooter. In these sections, you automatically scroll to the right with the goal of surviving until the end of the scene. You can move the helicopter in all eight directions with the D-pad. The helicopter moves faster going left or down and slower going right or up. Press A to shoot the gun. Like Golgo 13’s pistol, it only shoots a single shot straight ahead, but here you can rapid fire many shots quickly.

Golgo 13 is also a professional scuba diver, evidently.

Another play style appears in the underwater sections. Golgo 13 takes to the water with scuba gear and is armed only with a spear gun. Use the D-pad to swim in all eight directions and press A to fire spears. Golgo 13’s sprite changes significantly between swimming horizontally and swimming vertically. This is important when guiding him through narrow passages. It is also important in that Golgo 13 can only fire spears when swimming horizontally. You can fire either to the left or right. Here there are other enemies with scuba gear as well as aquatic creatures to fend off. Mines are a recurring nuisance that bob up and down underwater. They cannot be destroyed and they do heavy damage if you touch one. There are also plants that look harmless but actually damage you on contact.

Finally, perhaps the most involved play style of any in the entire game is the action maze. This play mode takes place from a first-person perspective and you explore a series of corridors. Most areas like this have multiple branching paths like an actual maze but some are more linear. You navigate the maze step by step. Every time you either take a step forward or switch direction, the screen goes blank very briefly before displaying the new location. This is a bit jarring when moving quickly through the maze, but under the restrictions of the NES it’s about the only way to do it quickly. Since every step is deliberate it helps you plot your course more accurately.

You will use the D-pad to move through the maze. Press Up to advance one step forward. Pressing either Left or Right will turn you in place. Pressing Down will let you face directly behind you also keeping you in place. Up is the only button that moves you to a different square in the maze. There is a compass along the bottom of the screen indicating which direction you are facing. This is invaluable to let you map your way accurately through the maze.

Enemies appear suddenly, but they are easy to dispatch.

The mazes have enemies. As you perform movements, sometimes an enemy soldier will be standing in front of you. Press A to bring up a crosshair. There are only three positions you can aim, either in the middle, to the left, or to the right. Use the D-pad to choose one of these locations and press A to shoot. You have to be quick to take out a soldier when you see one or you will take some damage. Many enemies will leave behind a grenade that you will pick up automatically. You can hold up to three of them and they are displayed at the bottom of the screen. They are not used for attacking like you might think. I will explain what the grenades do shortly.

Mazes can be complicated to navigate for several reasons. There are multiple doors that appear in the maze. Just walk into them to move to the room behind them. I had a hard time keeping my bearings after moving through doors while trying to go without a map. There are also ladders. Yes, the mazes can have multiple floors. Each level of the maze is in a different color to help distinguish them and you use the ladders to switch between floors. Sometimes when taking a step, a wall will appear right in front of you. If you have a grenade, you can throw it near the wall to break a hole through it allowing you to pass. The worst aspect is the trap door. Some squares of the maze will reveal a trap door and you fall to the floor below. Typically, the top floor holds what you are looking for within the maze, so falling always represents a step backward.

Contrary to the other modes, there are some pickups in the maze. You can find a life potion that fills your health and an ammo box that replenishes your ammo. You can find a key that lets you unlock a locked door. All doors look the same and a blinking key icon is displayed at the bottom of the screen if you are trying to go through a locked door without the key. There is a set of infrared goggles needed to go past the laser walls. This is yet another obstacle you will encounter within the maze. If you are equipped with the goggles, you can see the lasers beaming down. You can try to walk through the laser wall without the goggles if you wish, but you will suffer heavy damage by doing so. With the goggles and proper timing, you can pass through unscathed. I found the timing tricky to master and there is little room for error.

The lasers deploy randomly, so you need good reflexes and timing.

You can continue playing if you die in this game, and Golgo 13 has an interesting way of representing the continue system. Each life for Golgo 13 is represented as an episode of a TV series. On the title screen, there is a #1 written on the left at the start of the game. If you die, you get a screen saying “To Be Continued…” instead of the traditional Game Over screen. You go back to the title screen and now you see #2 meaning Episode 2. You can keep continuing all the way to #52, but if you die there you must start the entire game over.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is a long game. Naturally, there are 13 acts in the adventure. Some of them go by quickly, and others, like the ones with mazes, last a long time. There are no passwords and no saving in the game, and you are left at the mercy of the continue system. Completing Golgo 13 is more than just an endurance test; it has some challenging moments that take learning and practice.

This was my first time playing Golgo 13. It’s a common cart and one I picked up early on during one of my waves of collecting. With cart in hand, I remembered my impressions of the games from those old magazines. When I finally got to try it out, I was less than impressed with the first few minutes of the game. I would not have sat down and tried to get into it had I not started this project.

What doesn’t Golgo 13 do?

Golgo 13 started to impress me the more I played it. The first scene has you walking on the streets of Berlin. I thought the first-person shooting segments were a neat diversion. Soon you play a helicopter portion, and I had no idea that Golgo 13 had shooter sections. Each mode is a little bit clunky in its own way, but the game does a noble job of including several variants of game play. It’s a surprisingly deep game for the NES in 1988.

The manual is invaluable for this game because it contains maps of the mazes. Only the basic layouts are included, but all you need is a few missing details you can fill in yourself and you have a complete map. I got stuck in a maze on my first time playing, and I come to find out that it’s meant to be a fake base that is not necessary at all. If I had read the manual first more clearly, I would have known that.

One night I ended up with a lot of free time and I was able to complete the entire game with some continues to spare. It took me around three and a half hours to beat Golgo 13 on that playthrough. I didn’t think I’d be able to beat the game that night so I didn’t have any of my recording equipment set up. I had to play through the entire game again the next night to get it captured. It took me half the time to beat the game a second time with many fewer deaths. I’m satisfied with that result from only playing the game for a few days total.

Suggestive content was toned down for the US release.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode had some content censored for the US version. The most significant change is that the Japanese version features brief nudity. In an early scene of the game, Golgo 13 meets with a female agent in a hotel room and at the end she sheds her clothes. In the US version, the scene cuts away to an outside view of the hotel where you can see the two characters get close and the lights go down. Golgo 13 then has his life refilled to the max, which clearly suggests what they were up to.

There are a few other things included in the NES game that the censors missed. Some of the enemies in the mazes briefly show bleeding when they are shot. In one act, Golgo 13 can find a pack of cigarettes on the ground and he helps himself to a life-refilling smoke. There is also a stray swastika that should have been removed. My guess is that since these events are deeper in the game, the censors didn’t play long enough to notice them.

There are many things happening in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode that are worthwhile, but sadly the game suffers from a lack of polish. The hit detection is off in several places, such as when landing jump kicks or shooting targets in the first-person mode. The jumping is a little too slow and his jump arc doesn’t feel right. Enemies attack faster and with more complex patterns than you, causing frustration. You can shoot bullets right through enemies in the helicopter, which makes it appear you are not doing damage when you actually are. Now the graphics, music, and presentation are overall good, especially considering the age of this game, and there is a deep story with many different characters. Kudos to Vic Tokai for making a huge game with so many different play modes that all play well enough. For that, I can look past these issues and say that I enjoyed Golgo 13.

#55 – Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode

Journey to Silius Box Cover

#14 – Journey to Silius

This is one journey that is well worth going on!

Another sweet title screen tune!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 1/25/16 – 1/29/16
Difficulty: 8/10
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.

Quite a few enemies pose a challenge even early on.

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.

Some serious firepower here!

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!

Huge boss, huge claw, huge pain!

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!

Falling crates on conveyor belts while scrolling. It’s tough!

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!

Journey to Silius Ending Screen

#14 – Journey to Silius