Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#109 – The Terminator

I’ll be back.

You’re missing the whole three frames of zooming out.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/17/18 – 12/19/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 7/10
My Video: The Terminator Longplay

I wasn’t actually supposed to play The Terminator yet.  I had a different game scheduled for this slot that I could not get running on my AVS.  It was a weird case where I could get the game to play on a stock console but not the AVS.  That’s what I use to help record my longplays, so not having it playable there was a temporary dealbreaker.  I skipped ahead one game to The Terminator, which conveniently puts it right next to RoboCop, another 1980’s gritty action film franchise that is tied together through the RoboCop vs. the Terminator series.  RoboCop did well enough in its conversion to the NES, so let’s see how The Terminator fared.

The Terminator film was released in 1984.  It was the first major film both directed and written by James Cameron.  The movie is about a cyborg sent from 2029 back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor.  The future intelligence network known as Skynet plans to initiate a nuclear holocaust but would be foiled by John Connor, Sarah’s son.  A Resistance soldier, Kyle Reese, also goes back to 1984 to save Sarah from the Terminator so that John can be born and eventually lead the Resistance to victory.  The movie was made on a small budget with little hope for success, but the reception was positive and the film was a financial success.  The Terminator became a franchise, spawning five feature films with a sixth movie slated for 2019, many comic books, and a television series.  Of course, there have been many video games based on the series and franchise.

There were several games based on the first Terminator movie.  Sunsoft was set to create the first Terminator video game for the NES, but the license expired before the game was finished.  Sunsoft would go on to retool and release the game anyway as Journey to Silius.  The first Terminator video game was an action-adventure game on DOS in 1991.  There were later games on the SNES, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD.  The NES version was released in December 1992, created by Radical Entertainment and published by Mindscape.  The game had a PAL release also in 1992.

The future is so slimy.

The Terminator on NES more or less follows the plot of the movie.  You play as Kyle Reese, the resistance soldier from 2029 on a mission to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator.  You go through several missions.  You start in 2029, then you go back to 1984 and find Sarah, then you escape from the Terminator, and finally head into a factory where The Terminator is destroyed.  There are six missions total and you beat the game once all are finished.

The Terminator is a side-scrolling action platformer, mostly.  There are a couple different modes of play that appear periodically in the game, so the controls vary as well.  The platforming sections where you play as Kyle usually have the same controls.  You use the D-pad to move around.  This is a game where the B button is used for jumping.  When standing still you do a taller jump than when you are moving, and there is also a slight animation that occurs before you go airborne.  The A button uses weapons, which are typically either punches or kicks but can be guns, grenades, etc.  You can press Select to switch between weapons.  There is an icon at the top that shows which weapon is active, along with any required ammo.  The Start button pauses the game.

Sometimes there are items on the ground that you can pick up.  Just like in RoboCop, you have to stand over them and press Down to duck and pick them up.  Mostly you will find hearts that restore some of your health.  You can also find pickups like grenades or other special items that are stage specific.  Enemies don’t drop these so you have to keep an eye out in the stages.

Wow! Two grenades!

The first stage has some unique considerations from most of the other stages.  Kyle Reese starts out with a machine gun when he is in 2029.  Press and hold A to fire the gun.  You will automatically squat down before letting off firepower, so like with jumping you have to allow time for the animation to complete.  Bullets are unlimited.  While holding A to fire, you can press Up or Down to aim your gun at a different angle.  You also get grenades for use on distant targets.  First Select the grenades, then press A to lob them.  The longer you hold A, the farther you throw.

Near the end of the level, you have to hop in a pickup truck and avoid attacks from Skynet as you approach the base to time travel.  This is an auto-scrolling segment moving to the left.  Press Left to speed up and Right to slow down.  The truck is equipped with a gun and you can adjust its angle by pressing Up and Down.  The A button fires the gun.

The second level puts you in 1984 without any of your equipment you had in 2029.  You have to rely on punches and kicks to make it through, in fact you are stuck without a gun or grenades for the rest of the game.  Press Select to choose which weapon you want and press A to attack.  You also find baseballs in this stage alone that you can throw to ward off enemy dogs.  They don’t do damage but act as a distraction.

In Levels 3 and 5, instead of traveling on foot you drive vehicles.  Unlike the truck section in Stage 1, these are top-down driving sections.  You use the D-pad to steer your vehicle Left and Right.  Press Up to speed up and press Down to slow down.  These are looping stages and all you have to do is travel far enough to eventually end the stage.  There is a counter on screen that shows how much further you have to go.  When it reaches zero, the level is complete.  Of course, you will be pursued by the Terminator in a vehicle of his own.  You take damage when he bumps you or shoots you.  You can fire back if you want for points, even though I don’t think it slows him down any.  Press B to fire to the left and press A to fire to the right.

I was surprised to see driving in this game.

You begin the game with two extra lives.  Falling off the stage or running out of health costs you a life.  When you run out of lives, it’s Game Over and there are no continues to bail you out.  The only way to earn extra lives is through scoring.  You get a new life every 50,000 points.  Scoring is slow enough where you will only gain a life or two through casual play.  Every little bit helps with this one.

This was my first time playing through The Terminator.  I didn’t mention it up above, but this is one movie I have actually seen.  I haven’t watched all of The Terminator films but I think I have seen the first three or four.  This was one of the first NES games I picked up in the summer of 2013 when I decided to get back into NES collecting for good.  It was in the same lot of games where I got Alien 3.  Each game averaged out to $5 in that purchase, which is much better than the $20-$25 a Terminator cart will cost today.

This game has a reputation for being difficult.  One review I read said the game is impossible.  It is a difficult game but not nearly as bad as it was made out to be.  After all, I completed it for the first time after three days of playing.  I can see where that impression comes from just from the first level alone.  I’m confident that the first stage is the hardest part of the whole game.  First things first, you have to cope with the jumping.  The collision detection is pretty bad.  You have a large character sprite and the exact bottom-center pixel of the character is where you need to touch a ledge in order to land on it.  Inevitably you will miss ledges and fall to your death.  Furthermore, you are pursued by enemies that appear at random and can knock you down or drain your health fast.  You have to allow time to get your gun out, and the grenades are both limited and difficult to aim properly.  Early in the stage you have to navigate some small conveyor belts with these enemies, and you can fall off into the pit while you have your gun out firing.

This truck part is just awful.

All that is just the first half of the stage.  The rest of it is even worse.  At the top level, you first need to jump across moving platforms that inhibit and influence your jumping in unexpected ways depending on which direction they are moving.  Later are these ankle-biting turrets.  Some you can duck under and fire, while others are too low to handle that way.  You can take them out with grenades and the tricky aiming.  Or you can go toe-to-toe with them with your gun and lose a bunch of health in the process.  If you survive that, then you have to do the truck section.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how to dodge the attacks from above.  Since you can’t jump here, you have to rely on changing speeds to dodge.  The terrain is hilly and you are always bouncing around and can’t reliably aim your gun.  It’s really tough and I got stopped here my first day after many tries.  Survive that part, and you have to outrun another machine with the truck.  I don’t believe it is possible to dodge this at all; I survived through attrition.  You would think that would be the end of the stage, but nope, there is one more platforming section.  This features retractable spikes and platforming across single tile ledges with pits underneath.  This is where the collision detection flaws are most evident.  This game was not designed for precision jumping but you have to do it anyway several times over.  You are also limited on lives since you’ll probably lose at least one life just getting this far.  While not super easy, the game lets up a lot after beating this stage.

There’s one trick that really helped me figure out this game.  I learned it from the Angry Video Game Nerd in his The Terminator review.  There’s a great spot in the first stage where you can camp out with your gun and defeat unlimited enemies without suffering any damage.  Get set up properly and hold down the A button to rack up the points and lives.  I know this was deliberate and I don’t know why, but you max out at only six extra lives.  It takes about two to three minutes per extra life and it gets tiring to hold the button down for the ten or fifteen minutes needed to grind.  The Nerd used a monkey wrench and clamped down the A button on his controller instead.  I am not a handy guy at all, but I do have a monkey wrench, though I have no idea where I left it.  I improvised by finding something heavy and stable enough to set down on top of the controller to keep the button pressed.  Having six lives each attempt gave me the leeway I needed to learn the rest of the game quickly.

The Terminator also features a door maze with cops.

By the time I beat the game initially, at best I could get through the whole game with only losing two lives.  I spent one in the truck part of Stage 1 and another in the driving portion of Stage 5.  Playing normally without grinding gave me enough points for two extra lives, so I had a couple extra to spare anywhere else just in case.  While recording my longplay video, I died both in Stage 1 and Stage 5 as expected.  I burned one spare life in the final stage, giving me a somewhat comfortable win.  Once you know what to do, the game is short.  I finished my playthrough in about 20 minutes, which is about half the time it would take if I needed to grind for lives.

The Terminator is a lackluster NES game.  The character graphics in-game are kind of dopey looking.  The environments look just okay.  The best graphics are the digitized character portraits between the stages.  The music and sound effects are bland where they exist at all.  The controls are okay and you can get used to the floaty jumping.  However, the poor collision detection makes the already loose controls much more difficult to manage.  The vehicle sections, while a nice break from the platforming, are not that interesting or involved.  The high level of difficulty right out of the gate is a big turn off as well, and no continues and few lives mean you may not be spending much time with this game.  As far as Robocop vs. Terminator is concerned, on the NES, Robocop wins in a landslide.

#109 – The Terminator

Posted In: Finished

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