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#107 – Isolated Warrior

Taking care of threats from all angles.

Nicely animated title here.

To Beat: Beat all six stages
To Complete: Beat the game without continuing and finish the final special stage
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 11/28/18 – 12/7/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Isolated Warrior Longplay

I will always find it fascinating whenever I play an NES game that has some kind of quality to it that isn’t often seen, and then very soon after I play another game that shares that same quality.  This might be the only time anyone has ever linked Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure with Isolated Warrior, but here we are.  I went from an adventure game with an isometric perspective to a shoot-em-up also in that same view.  The difference is I enjoyed playing Isolated Warrior much more.

Isolated Warrior was released in February 1991 in both Japan and North America.  The Japanese title is Max Warrior: Wakusei Kaigenrei.  This game also had a PAL release in 1991.  Isolated Warrior was developed by KID and published by Vap in all territories.  NTVIC is also credited as a co-publisher on the NES title.  I was surprised to learn that KID developed several NES games, including the already completed Burai Fighter.  That tells me that they know how to develop a good shooter.

Isolated Warrior is a shoot-em-up with an isometric perspective.  It follows the story of the fall of the planet Pan which exists outside of our galaxy.  Aliens have taken over the planet and all are advised to evacuate the planet, including the army.  The commander of the army, Max Maverick, refuses to evacuate and goes to take on the alien forces all by himself.  His journey takes him over six stages of shooting action.  If you play well enough, you may unlock the final seventh stage.  Beating that gives you the proper ending to this game.

Just a casual stroll down the street

The controls here are mostly straightforward.  You use the D-pad to move in all directions.  This game includes some light platforming elements and you can press A to jump.  If you hold the A button down, you will perform a somersault in the air.  Press A again while airborne to launch bombs.  The B button fires your normal weapons with unlimited ammo.  Press Select to switch between two different types of firing modes.  You may also press Start to pause the game.

The obvious gimmick here is the isometric viewpoint.  This game is an upward-scrolling vertical shooter that also pans slightly to the right.  Your normal shooting direction is fixed in the direction of the scrolling, which can make it a little tricky to line up with the enemy at first.  You will get used to it rather quickly.

There is a healthy amount of information on the bottom of the screen.  The left side contains your high score in the first row, and your health bar and number of lives remaining in the second row.  The center portion displays which weapon mode you are using, along with the number of weapon pickups collected of that type.  Below that is the current weapon level.  It’s a little confusing but I’ll clear it all up shortly.  The right side contains your current score.  You also see the power level of your bombs and a meter displaying how many bombs you have at your disposal.

At any time during gameplay, you can toggle between the two firing modes by pressing Select.  One is a straight shot and the other is a wide spread shot.  You can upgrade these as you go by collecting L and W icons, which upgrade the standard shot and wide shot respectively.  The game keeps a counter of how many icons you have collected.  You can go from 1 to 12 for each weapon.  You might think there would be twelve power levels for each weapon, but there are only five.  You have to reach a certain number of pickups to level up the weapon.  You can see both the number of pickups collected and the weapon level on screen, but the power level is what really matters.  Each weapon power level gives you an extra shot on-screen to work with.  For instance, at level 3 wide shot you get a three-way spread shot.  In straight shot mode you can fire both straight ahead and backward.

Five-way shot is useful against waves of smaller enemies

You also get five levels of bomb power.  There are B icons that increase your bomb power level directly.   You can power up to level 5.  Levels 1 through 4 give you a single bomb, three-way spread, five-way spread, and eight-way spread respectively.  For the first three bomb levels you can choose the direction you want to toss bombs with the D-pad as you use them.  Level 5 is a more powerful version of the eight-way spread but you can only use it once before being downgraded back to Level 4.  You can hold up to ten bombs, which is quite a lot of firepower if you can keep it at a high level.

There are other powerups.  The S powerup increases your movement speed.  There are also 1ups appearing on occasion.  The remaining powerups look similar enough that it is tough to tell what they are in the heat of the fight.  A long pill-shaped powerup is called The Bullet, which gives you an extra bomb.  A purple sphere is just for bonus points.  Another purple sphere with a wave on either side restores two points of your health bar.  The Barrier is a football-shaped powerup with waves around it and a white center.  This powerup is often carried on-screen by an enemy group near the stage boss and you get to knock it out of their grasp.  The Barrier puts a shield around you that lets you get hit five times without losing health.  After taking four hits, the shield will start blinking to indicate it is almost gone.

Isolated Warrior’s jump mechanic puts a little bit of platforming in this shooter.  There are various traps you will have to avoid by jumping.  There are simple walls that will crush you against the bottom of the screen if you don’t jump in time.  There are hazards on the floors like lava or electricity where you will suffer heavy damage if you set foot there.  Pits are also common and you lose a life if you fall in.  Jumping mostly keeps you from danger because most of the bullets are fired along the ground and you can just leap over them.  I found it normal to spend a lot of time jumping and weaving my landings around bullets.  Sometimes enemies are in the air and you can only defeat them by jumping and shooting precisely.

The purple goop hurts and is everywhere

While most of the game is spent traveling on foot, there are two stages where you get to drive other vehicles.  The second stage features a hovercraft over a river.  You drive upstream much faster than you walk.  The controls are the same and you can still jump and everything, so it’s really just an excuse to make the scrolling faster.  In the fourth stage, you drive a motorcycle up a destroyed highway.  This level feels the fastest of them all.  There is one slight quirk to the motorcycle.  If you press Down before pressing A, instead of jumping you will perform a wheelie.  This lets you pass through bullets that would normally hit you directly.  You can still fall through holes or crash into walls no matter what.

Isolated Warrior has a power down system in place for when you die.  Your current weapon goes all the way back to Level 1 and you also lose a level of bomb power.  Being able to keep your other weapon at its current strength gives you a fighting chance to get back into the game.  If you take a few deaths close together and lose both of your weapons, well, good luck.  Some enemies take enough firepower to defeat that you start stacking them up with the next set of enemies and it becomes too much.  It’s not full-blown Gradius Syndrome, where powering down means a near-impossible road ahead, but resetting and starting over begins to sound like a decent idea.

To combat the powering down, there are a few things that work in your favor.  Having a life bar really helps you plan ahead a little bit so you can stash away the weapon you really want in case you perish.  The game is also somewhat friendly with extra lives.  You earn lives every 300,000 points on top of the pickups.  If you get pretty far in the game on one life, you should have enough lives to at least learn that level so that you’ll be better off the next time.  This game also features passwords after every stage.  These are four-digit passwords that start you at the beginning of the stage with the base equipment.  I found that I was better off playing from the start every time and that the passwords were only useful for practice.

Hello there giant screen-filling boss!

Reaching the end of stage six gives you an ending, but it’s a crummy one.  You are advised to beat all six stages before the game is over to reach a special seventh stage.  I have read that some people think you have to beat all six stages on one life, but you only need to finish them without continuing or using passwords.  The secret stage is challenging and ends in the true final boss fight.  This gets you the good ending.  I am okay with someone getting the bad ending and saying that they beat it.  I think most players would argue that you really need the good ending on this one.  Of course, that’s what I planned to go for anyway.

I played Isolated Warrior a little bit as a Nintendo Age contest game back in 2016.  I stalled out in Stage 4 but didn’t really give it my full effort.  I bought this game for a cool $7 on eBay in August 2014.  It was a good deal for a $12 game at the time, though there is a tear in the back label.  In February 2015, a Nintendo Age thread was created that hyped the game up as hidden gem.  Sure enough, the game price saw a steady climb for the next couple of years, topping out at over $30 for just a loose cart.  The game sells now for around $20-$25.

I ended up with a pretty good run of this game.  I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble learning the game, but I was a little short on time and I needed over a week before I got it all completed.  The run before I recorded was the first time I reached Stage 7, and I just barely beat it.  I had close to ten lives but piddled them away before beating the final boss on my last life.  Even though the game does give you the Stage 7 password, I didn’t need it.  For my longplay video, I beat the game with four deaths.  The first one was during the Stage 6 boss, and then I lost the remaining ones trying to clear Stage 7.  While not an incredible run, it was one I’m quite happy with.

This part is unfair

There’s only one part of the game I dislike, but it is so flawed that it nearly turned me off from this game entirely.  I’m talking about doing wheelies on the motorcycle in Stage 4.  The problem is that it takes away your jump if you happen to be holding Down.  The level design features huge chunks of highway that are broken up by gaps, so you have to jump.  The level also has the fastest scrolling in the game. Instinctively, you would be moving downward often so that you are at the bottom of the screen which gives you the most time to react.  This results in doing a wheelie and you don’t have enough time to let go of Down and jump again before you fall to your doom.  Even worse, the stage boss is played on a looping section of highway with forced jumps, and the boss itself is tiny and slides around a lot.  It is ridiculously easy to fall here given you have to make so many jumps while you wait to align yourself with the boss.  I had to train myself to jump before pressing Down.  The wheelie itself is a useless move anyway since you can dodge normally or jump in a pinch.  This is a real “what were they thinking?” moment in this game.  No wonder I didn’t get past it in 2016.

Level 4 notwithstanding, Isolated Warrior is a really neat shooter that I’m glad I got to play.  The graphics are nice and unique given the isometric perspective.  I dig the enemy and boss designs, and there’s even cutscenes between stages to advance the story.  The soundtrack is energetic and upbeat.  The controls work great.  I like having two base weapons to work with that I can switch between at will.  The game can be hard but I don’t think it’s too challenging if you stay powered up.  Going for the good ending is a solid challenge.  Isolated Warrior has a good number of stages, but the game itself is on the shorter side and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  One small negative is that there is some noticeable slowdown at times.  There’s a lot to like about this game.  I don’t know that the game is so hidden anymore, but I feel good saying that it is still a gem.

#107 – Isolated Warrior

Posted In: Finished

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