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#101 – F-117A Stealth Fighter

Not exactly a stealth mission, but whatever.

So dark and stealthy

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Get the highest rank and win all medals
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 9/22/18 – 10/8/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: F-117A Stealth Fighter Final Mission

Flight games are way out of my interest level and not really in my wheelhouse. So far, I have dealt with two such games with mixed results. Top Gun had fast action but was difficult. Laser Invasion had several different modes and was a surprise fun game on my list. Those two games had the benefit of being developed by Konami, one of the most prolific and successful developers on the system. How do other developers fare in this genre? F-117A Stealth Fighter is an ambitious game featuring open-ended missions and a lot to keep track of throughout. Let’s take a closer look.

F-117A Stealth Fighter has quite a convoluted past. Let’s start with the PC game F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter from 1991. That game was a remake of F-19 Stealth Fighter from 1988, which was itself a remake of Project Stealth Fighter from 1987. Those games were all computer games developed and published by Microprose. The NES game appears to be a trimmed down version of those games. F-117A Stealth Fighter on NES was released in December 1992, both developed and published by Microprose. It turns out that I unintentionally broke my rule of playing games out of order, sort of. F-117A Stealth Fighter is not a sequel, but more of a spiritual successor to the game F-15 Strike Eagle, which debuted on computers in 1984. That game had a couple of sequels released in 1989 and 1992 before the original F-15 Strike Eagle was ported to the NES in early 1992.

F-117A Stealth Fighter is a flight combat game. You are simply the pilot of the F-117A who carries out several missions. These missions are comprised of flying your fighter through enemy territory to destroy a primary target and a few secondary targets. There are six main missions in the game. Do well enough in those missions to unlock some secret missions. Complete the secret missions to reach the ending and beat the game.

Travel the globe!

Before you get started, use the main menu to set up your game. There are four options here. You press Select to make decisions on this screen, and then press Start when you are ready to fly. The Options selection lets you choose what kind of game you want to play. You can play the game single player, with a friend as a team, or against a friend in competition. Team play is interesting in that the first player controls the F-117 fighter’s movement while the second player controls the weapons. I have no idea how the competitive mode works; the manual doesn’t even mention it. The other three options on that screen are for starting up a saved game with a password. The Theater screen lets you pick which mission you want to try. You can only do the Libya mission at first. The Enemy level can be chosen from Green, Average, Veteran, or Ace. You can also decide which missiles you want to bring along using the Weapons screen. There are different loadouts of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles to choose from.

The controls are complex for an NES game. The view is in first person from inside the cockpit. Use the D-pad to steer your F-117A fighter. Up and Down are inverted in this game, while Left and Right steer your aircraft in the appropriate direction. The A button fires your Vulcan Cannon while the B button launches missiles. You have to be locked on to a target before firing missiles, while the Vulcan Cannon can be shot at any time. Press Start to launch decoys, either chaff or flares depending on the situation. The Select button is used for many different things. Simply press Select during a mission to bring up the map screen. Hold Select and press either Up or Down to adjust the throttle, which speeds up or slows down your fighter. There are two screens in the center of your cockpit display. The left one is toggled by holding Select and pressing B. This side displays either a minimap or your radar. Hold Select and press A to toggle the right screen between your missile ammo and current damage display. Press Start and Select together to toggle autopilot. Then your fighter jet will automatically steer toward whichever main target you chose on the map screen.

See the lay of the land and choose your target.

There is a ton of information on screen that is useful during play. The main action takes place on the top half of the screen. The square in the center is the focus of the action and you have to have an enemy within that square to target it with missiles. There will be a lock indicator that appears around the target when you have successfully locked on. The red arrow around the perimeter is your navigation arrow. This points to either the primary target, secondary target, or home base, whichever you selected. On the map screen, you press Left or Right to adjust which target you want the arrow to point. (You can also eject from your fighter jet from this screen.) On the right side of the center window is an altitude indicator. When you are flying too low, this indicator will blink red.

The bottom half of the screen shows all the bells and whistles from inside your cockpit. On the far left, you see your digital altitude display, the speed display, and your compass display. The compass displays from 0 to 360 degrees depending on your flight direction. 0 is due north, 90 is due east, 180 is south, and 270 is west. Above those displays on the top is your autopilot indicator. Just to the right of that is your throttle gauge and your fuel gauge. In the middle are the map/radar displays and the weapons/damage display. Above the weapons/damage display are four indicators. Lock displays when enemy radar has locked on to you. The I or R display lights up when either an enemy infrared missile or enemy radar-locked missile is headed your way. The Fire indicator lights up when you are locked on to a target and can fire a missile. To the right of that is your stealth gauge. On the far right is your decoy ammo and Vulcan cannon ammo. The long box at the bottom is a text display for various events, and next to that is your score.

The idea in each mission is to destroy a primary target on the ground. You can set the navigation arrow to point toward it and go straight there if you want. That might not be the best course of action. Piloting a stealth fighter means you can opt to sneak in as quietly as possible. The stealth meter has two bars on it. The left one shows how effective the enemy radar is, while the right bar is how visible you are. I’m not really sure I understand it, but from experience you want the left bar to be higher than the right bar. By avoiding enemy bases on the map, you keep the enemy’s radar less effective and the left bar higher on the display. The way you fly influences the right bar. Flying slower, lower, and away from radar stations keep your visibility low. When the bars cross, the right one will turn red and that means you are being tracked by radar. Since you have to get close to enemies to take out the targets, this is inevitable. Soon an enemy will lock on to you with a missile.

Enemy fighters are ruthless in this game.

When you get tracked and locked by an enemy, there’s really no maneuver you can do to avoid missiles. You want to pull up your radar to see the missile approaching and press Start to launch a decoy. If done at a good time, this should steer the missile away from you and you can proceed. The radar is also helpful for seeing nearby enemy fighters and ground targets. While you can steer away from ground targets, enemy fighters are relentless and will follow you around if you let them. With the help of radar, get the enemy fighters in front of you and blow them up so that they will stop bothering you. Take the time needed to blow them up so that you can continue with your mission.

There are two ways you take damage. Enemies will fire with cannons if you get too close to them. Eventually this will knock you out of commission, though the damage is slow to build up. Most of your damage will come from enemy missiles that you couldn’t decoy or were targeted from too close. These have the added detriment of sometimes disabling some functionality of your stealth fighter. Any damage that affects your fighter’s capabilities will cause the right-hand display to switch over to a top-down view of your fighter highlighting where the damage took place. The status bar will tell you what part got hit. Often the missiles will disable something you can live without, like your digital altimeter, speedometer, compass, or autopilot system. If the fuel line gets hit, you will start to lose fuel much faster, affecting the amount of time you can maintain flight. You can’t fire missiles or decoys if those systems are hit, and if your Vulcan cannon is damaged you will fire sporadically. Losing your radar display puts you at a significant disadvantage. The worst is if you take a direct hit to the engine because then you are done for. I think it’s best to be generous in deploying your decoys so that you can maintain top performance as long as possible.

It hurts to lose your radar.

Changing your weapon loadout can be helpful for clearing some missions. You set this up in the Weapons option before each mission. You can hold two types of missiles at once and there are several predefined loadouts set up for you to pick from. To use missiles in combat, simply press B when you lock on to an enemy by getting it in front of you. For ground targets, you must be at 20,000 feet or below to be able to lock on. I found that it didn’t really matter what type of air missiles you use as the basic ones were incredibly accurate and deadly. The air-to-ground missiles however have varying results. The basic ones are not very effective, but you can opt for fewer, more powerful missiles that don’t often miss their mark. The longer you play the game, the more weapon packs you can choose from. Later, you can get missiles designed for taking down boats, as well as some highly accurate air-to-ground missiles in higher quantities. There’s even a weapon set that gives you extra fuel and another that gives you extra ammo for your Vulcan Cannon. Be sure to check the weapons screen between missions to see what’s changed.

The enemy ground targets in a mission have various icons to represent them. You can see these icons on the map or on your minimap during flight. It took me a while to realize that you can derive some benefit from taking down specific units. Little satellites are radar stations, and destroying them reduces the effectiveness of enemy radar targeting. Destroying runways helps keep enemy fighters out of the air. Two important ones replenish some of your supplies on the fly. An icon shaped like a capital A is an ammo dump that restores all of your Vulcan Cannon ammo when destroyed. Blow up the oil well over the water to restore all your fuel. I’m not sure what effect some of the other ones have. It’s not a bad idea to plan your route around specific targets.

Once you have completed your mission, land back at the home air strip. You have to be flying lower than 10,000 feet while over the runway to engage the landing sequence. This view changes to behind the stealth fighter. Simply use the D-pad to steer in all directions, and remember, use Up to go lower here. I think you can crash if you descend too quickly but I never had that happen, just be careful.

Easiest landing sequence thus far.

After the mission, you go through debriefing where your score is totaled. Destroying the primary target gives you 10,000 points, each secondary target is worth 5,000 points, other ground targets are worth 3,000 points each, and enemy fighters are worth 1,000 points each. Then, optionally, you may earn bonus points. I’m not sure how the scoring works for these. You can get points for saving missiles, flying stealthily, or landing well. Your mission score is then added to your total score over all missions to date. These are just the base points for the Green difficulty level. These point values are doubled for Average, tripled for Veteran, and quadrupled for Ace difficulty.

You earn medals and ribbons for meeting certain criteria. Each of the six main missions award you a medal if you score enough points. Unfortunately, the digital manual I found for the game was almost too blurry to read, but I can tell you the point thresholds are 50,000, 125,000, 175,000, 200,000, 300,000, and 325,000 for each respective mission. There are four additional medals that can be earned in any mission. One you get by completing any mission, and another you receive by clearing multiple missions. The Air Force Achievement Medal is awarded by destroying at least 15 enemy airplanes in a single mission. The Superior Service Medal is earned by destroying at least 75% of all ground targets in a mission. You can only get each medal once, but you can earn more than one at a time. You also receive ribbons and get promoted for meeting certain total score thresholds. To achieve the highest rank of General, you must score 4,000,000 points cumulative over all mission attempts. Just keep playing long enough and you will get there!

While the ribbons and associated promotions are merely cosmetic, the medals have a greater significance. Earn all ten medals to open up some secret missions. The only way to beat the game and see the ending is to complete these secret missions. Furthermore, completing the final secret mission and scoring at least 325,000 points earns you the Congressional Medal of Honor, the game’s highest award. If you’ve gone this far, you might as well go all the way.

The explosion animation is pretty neat.

This is a lengthy game, so good thing there are passwords. These are displayed after completing a mission or if you eject from your stealth fighter. The game calls them save codes. These passwords are eight characters long, consisting of most of the alphabet, digits, and a couple of symbols. Your total score and all medals are maintained within the passwords, Also, your difficulty level and last mission completed will be pre-selected on the Options screen. There is a weird quirk around these passwords. If you crash your fighter, then your career is over and you get no password. You can choose to eject from your plane if you start to spin out or whatever. In that case, sometimes you get rescued and sometimes you get captured. You get a password either way. If you get captured, sometimes your password doesn’t work right away! It’s a coin flip whether or not you get free or remain captured, but if you don’t get free, you have to enter your password from scratch and try again. You don’t get any points or medals for failing a mission, so there’s little benefit in keeping your new password at all unless you succeed in a mission.

This was my first time playing F-117A Stealth Fighter. Nearly all flight simulator games of this ilk were relegated to my deferred list, including this one. This is an affordable game, but not too common. I think I picked my copy up at a used game store near me for under $10, which is the going rate for a loose cart right now.

The reason for the discrepancy in my difficulty ratings for this game was that I learned something most helpful about this game just prior to the final secret mission. I looked online but didn’t see this fact documented anywhere. So, here’s a red-hot tip for this game. If you have not yet destroyed the primary target in a mission, you can land back home and refresh your stealth fighter as many times you want while remaining in the mission. Before that, I was planning a single route around the level map that netted me the most points while also managing my initial ammo and fuel. The final mission would have been a real pain without learning this trick. It’s kind of a miracle that I managed to get as far as I did. I was all set to rate this game a 9/10, but I think I’ve had enough of them this year! It is a difficult game to get into and any kind of loss or missing a medal costs you a lot of time. That to me justifies 7/10.

Be decorated with medals and accolades.

I played through most of the game on Veteran difficulty. While a harder difficulty, I didn’t find it that much more challenging than the easier difficulty levels, at least once I learned the ins and outs of gameplay. Getting triple points was quite lucrative for only a modest increase in difficulty. Ace difficulty on the other hand is ridiculous. My technique for decoying missiles is to wait until it appears on the radar before deploying a decoy. Unless you are flying directly at the missile, that should be enough to keep it from hitting you. On Ace difficulty, I needed two or even three decoys per missile to keep from getting hit. Enemies are more aggressive and appear more frequently, and it takes fewer hits to knock you out of the sky. While I’m sure these things all increase with the difficulty, it became far too overwhelming for me to stick with Ace difficulty. I completed one mission on Ace just to see if I could do it, and it was not worth it at all. I could only knock out one or two ground targets of any kind before needing to return to base. I repeated that several times just to clear one mission. Even with that strategy, it still took a few attempts to get it right. In my video, I played only the final mission on Veteran difficulty. I returned to base a few times just to ensure I could earn enough points safely. I set it up so that I would get both the final medal and final promotion at the same time, thereby meeting every possible goal of the game to cap it off.

F-117A is an alright game, but not one I’m planning on returning to. The graphics are serviceable, as in not too exciting but not bad. There’s very little music to speak of and what’s there isn’t very good. I found the controls to be stiff. This game suffers from some moderate to severe frame rate issues. I get that there is a lot to cover all at once, and I imagine the game performs many calculations to handle the flight angles and missile trajectories and all that. When the frame rate drops, the controls become less responsive. As a result, there’s a lot of wiggling back and forth to stabilize your fighter so that you can move in a precise direction when you need it. My other issues are just minor gripes. The Select button is an odd choice as a confirmation button instead of using A like many games do. The password system has some annoying quirks to it and it’s annoying when passwords don’t work right away. While rough around the edges, I could see this providing some fun with the freedom to play the way you want to among all the missions. I just hoped for more polish out of an NES game from 1992.

#101 – F-117A Stealth Fighter

#101 – F-117A Stealth Fighter

Posted In: Finished

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