Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#114 – Dirty Harry

Go ahead, make my day.

There’s another title screen but this is clearly the better one.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/8/19 – 2/23/19
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Dirty Harry Longplay

Dirty Harry shares something in common with Gilligan’s Island. Trust me, these are comparisons I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be making on this blog. Nevertheless, this is a trivial one at best. One of the dates on Dirty Harry’s copyright screen is 1971, the year the film came out. It is the second earliest year displayed on an NES game that I’ve seen so far, several years after Gilligan’s Island’s 1964 debut. While Gilligan’s Island is still a weird choice for an NES game, Dirty Harry was timelier at least and would seem to make for a decent game. In reality, the game is at best passable.

Clint Eastwood stars in the film Dirty Harry. It was released in 1971 and was produced and directed by Don Siegel. It follows the story of inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department as he tracks down a killer named Scorpio. The movie was both a critical and financial success and is regarded as one of the best movies of 1971. There were four Dirty Harry sequels: Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool. The final film released in 1988, which is inside the NES life span and could explain why an NES Dirty Harry game was made.

Dirty Harry on NES was released in December 1990 in North America only. It is sometimes referred to as Dirty Harry: The War Against Drugs though I cannot figure out where that subtitle originated from. It is not listed in any of the packaging, manual, or screens within the game. Dirty Harry was developed by Gray Matter and published by Mindscape.

Punching thugs in the streets like a boss

The game has a unique story from any of the other Dirty Harry films, though there are scenes borrowed from some of the movies for this game. The Anaconda is a new drug kingpin hailing from Colombia who has taken out The Dealmaker, the most successful criminal in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Anaconda is also taking over all the drug gangs in the city and killing anyone else who stands in his way. Not to be deterred by the police chief, Harry Callahan sets off on a mission to find and capture the Anaconda. The game takes place over three stages: The city streets, the waterfront docks, and Alcatraz Island. If you can capture The Anaconda on Alcatraz, you win the game.

Dirty Harry is a side-scrolling platformer. The controls for this one are a little clumsy. Use the D-pad to move around as usual. Up lets you climb ladders, enter doors, and walk up alleyways. Down does the same thing under or in front of you, otherwise you use Down to crouch. The B button punches. If you hold Up and press B, you kick instead. The A button is used for your gun. First press A to hold out and aim your gun, then press A again to shoot. Firing only work if you have both feet on the ground. You can press Up and Down to adjust the angle of your gun prior to firing. To jump you have to press A and B together. It sounds bad, and it’s not the best control, but jumping is surprisingly responsive. You can either jump straight up and down or jump forward at a fixed distance.

Press Start to pause the game and bring up the inventory screen. The top row of items are selectable with Left and Right. Put the cursor over the item you want and unpause to equip that item. Some items can only be used in certain situations and you default to the gun if that item can’t be used. If you run out of bullets, you can still hold out the gun but cannot fire. The second row of items cannot be selected and are used automatically as needed. Following the items are your score, health meter, and number of lives remaining.

Cops stroll on fire escapes in alleyways all the time.

You will spend most of your time in the first level if you are playing this game. The game starts out in the city streets. The layout here is parallel city streets connected by alleyways or sometimes doorways. For example, you start on one street, then you can go down the alley to another screen, and finally go out the alleyway on the other side onto a different street. All of these sections are side scrolling and there’s no map or compass to guide you. You must also enter buildings. Inside buildings, there are doorways and hallways you move through. Sometimes you can exit a building from the opposite side onto a different street. Other times there might be side doors that lead back into an alley. There is also a sewer system. These are side-scrolling sections with several different entry points on the streets. Passageways are typically blocked off by sewer grates and you have to locate switches to open them up so you can pass. The description here doesn’t really do justice on how tough this level is to navigate.

The buildings are where you find most of the items in this game. Once you enter through a hallway door, the rooms within are purely side-scrolling with no depth or other exits aside from the opposite end of the room. Some rooms have boxes in the background or on the floor. Kick the boxes in the background to break them and collect their contents. You can open boxes on the floor by jumping on top of them. There are also safes that can only be busted by blowing them up with explosives.

There are many items to collect. You can find bullets for your gun, either a small pack of 10 bullets or a large pack of 25 bullets, which is the max Dirty Harry can hold. Plastic explosives blow up safes. Select the explosive and then press A to set one up that explodes shortly after. You can also hurt enemies with these. Chili dogs restore half of your health meter and you get a little eating animation to go with it. The harpoon gun and missile launcher are powerful firing weapons that have limited ammo. Grappling hooks are used for swinging over treacherous areas. Bulletproof vests absorb enemy bullets for a while. The gas mask lets you survive in poisonous rooms. The flashlight lets you see while exploring the sewers. Crowbars are used to open locked doors within the buildings. You can find money bags or stashes of drugs that you confiscate for points. You can also find badges for extra lives that are sure to come in handy.

Sewers are merely door mazes with poison, shocks, and death water.

With all the ways you can go, the first stage is one gigantic maze. The city streets often have large walls that are too high to jump over. Sometimes you can do some platforming across ledges high enough where you can cross over the walls. There is some honest-to-goodness level design here where you need to plan out your movements so that you don’t fall. Since jump distance is fixed, you can get a feel for what you can do and it will always be consistent. The problem is there are some sections of forced high ground traversal where if you fall, you have to backtrack through the city to get back to where you were. It’s laughably easy to get lost when everything kind of looks the same.

There are many enemies in this game and they are all out to get you. Gang members run the streets and roam the halls. Some bad guys hang out on the rooftops and throw out grenades, bricks, or nets that trap you. Some just go straight to shooting. Enemies pour out of windows and bash you with punches or pipes. There can only be I think two enemies on the ground at once, but when you defeat them they will keep appearing. Buildings have huge snakes that guard drugs and money. You can jump on them to either stun them or kill them; the outcome seems to be random. Some rooms have lasers sliding across the floor. The sewers also have traps such as dripping sewer sludge, electric shocks, giant rats and cockroaches, and even remote-controlled cars. Falling into sewer water is instant death. All of these dangers are just in the first stage alone, though you will see other similar threats in the other two stages.

Dirty Harry faces several bosses in this game. Many of them are really large people that pack a lot of firepower. Usually you need to use your best weapons to take them out most effectively. Some of them require different tactics where you need to either trap them somehow or figure out how to pierce their defenses. There can be more than one boss in a level, so you can’t really tell from those encounters that you are at the end of the level. A good thing is that many defeated bosses give you three lives for winning.

This is one large guy!

Levels 2 and 3 are, thankfully, more straightforward affairs. There’s little exploration but more challenging enemies and tricky platforming. In the first level, you get nearly all your items from inside the buildings. After that, you don’t go into buildings any more, so sometimes defeated enemies will give you items. The item drops appear to be scripted and sometimes you can use that to your advantage.

Dirty Harry includes a password feature and continues. The passwords are five characters long A-Z. In this game you only receive two passwords that are simple words that are easy to remember. There is a third password I’ve found online that I believe gives you unlimited lives. I didn’t use it, but I found it easily just by doing some basic research on this game. If you’re not into passwords, some continues might help. The system in this game is a little weird. In the first stage only, you can continue up to three times with a fresh set of lives. You continue exactly from where you died if you ran out of health. In the other two levels, you are only given one continue. It doesn’t matter if you survive the first level with all continues intact or use them all up. Continues do refresh your gun ammo back to the maximum.

This was my first time playing Dirty Harry. Surprise, surprise, I haven’t seen any of the movies either. I’m sure I would like them if I ever gave them the chance. This is not an expensive game but is not commonly found either. It costs around $6-$8. I believe my collection copy is the only one I’ve owned, though I have seen it in stores on occasion.

As you could imagine, I spent most of my time figuring out the first stage. It is truly a nightmarish level. There are loops in the map that I had to take several times before I realized I was just retracing my steps. It’s not clear right away that you have to do platforming without falling on some streets to reach new areas. The sewer system is confusing and complicated with all the traps and switches you need to find. I couldn’t figure out one of the bosses and had to look up the solution online. I normally hate doing that but I’m glad I did here. I spent maybe a week and a half of playing before I learned how to clear the level. Things proceeded much more quickly after that. I beat the second level in about 30 minutes. The last level was pretty challenging but I beat it in a couple of days anyway.

Other levels are straightforward, except for this part.

There are some really bad design choices in the first level alone that are sure to turn people off of the game. Some people will hate the forced platforming sections, but I like them. I think it is one of the few elements of the game that has real design to it. They are a lot like jumping puzzles and you have to reason your way through the jumps. What I don’t like is falling down and having to backtrack because those sections always lock you away so that you just can’t go back directly and retry. You also get to cope with enemies that are trying to knock you down. A particularly egregious example of this is at the end of the first stage. There is a large expanse you must cross by hand-walking your way across a power line. Enemies are shooting at you and one bullet knocks you down. For a large portion of that section, if you fall the only way out is through the sewers. There you are led down into a one-way section that puts you all the way back to the start of the level. It takes at least five minutes of real time to backtrack to where you can try again, plus you will likely lose several lives along the way. It’s complete trash, but not as trash as the “ha ha ha” room. One building contains a room with the words “ha ha ha” written on the side. The room doesn’t contain an exit door so once you go in you are stuck. The only way out is to reset the console and start over. This room is deep in the level too. I can’t tell if maybe this was a default room and the developers neglected to link the door to an actual room, or if the developers left this in as a dumb joke. I tend to believe the latter, but who knows?

I ended up beating Dirty Harry four times. I realize this is way too many times to beat this game, but I have my reasons. The first time was playing normally, and right after that I beat the game from the start just to see how I would fare in a complete run. I started doing a little research and discovered a claim about a secret ending that was eluded to in both this FAQ and the game manual. From what I gathered, the idea is that if you recover all the items in the game, you will receive a special medal from the police chief at the end. I haven’t found any further evidence and didn’t find a video of said ending, but I had to give it a try for myself. My third time through the game was a failed attempt at the best ending. I used a map I found to make sure I didn’t miss any of the buildings in the first stage, which did lead to some rooms I missed on my own, but it wasn’t enough. I even tried poking at the game on an emulator with a debugger to see if I could discover anything and got nowhere. Chalk this one up to a rumor I suppose. The fourth time through was for finally recording a proper longplay video. I thought I would try cutting straight to the chase in the first level and that was a bad idea. I skipped a bunch of items and lives, and then due to some bad mistakes in the run I ran out of lives. I needed to start the final level over a few times before I could beat it with the password. It’s not my best effort, but it’s a documented completion at least which is always my goal.

I’m sure the Dirty Harry movies are great, but this game is not very good. The graphics are passable with a lot of samey-looking buildings. Some of the building residents are interesting looking, and I dig the security lasers in the buildings, so it’s not all bad. The music has some decent depth to it, though the base sounds are so low that I barely heard them while playing with a relatively low volume. The controls work okay. I’m not a fan of two-button jumping but it works fine. I found the controls a little bit sluggish at times, like when pointing and firing weapons. The gameplay is challenging but not in a good way. The forced backtracking when making mistakes is bad, you can easily get trapped between two enemies and get knocked around, and the navigation around the city is both confusing and frustrating. I sort of appreciate the jumping puzzles centered around Dirty Harry’s fixed jump length, but I reckon it is more of an inconvenience for many players. For all the warts this game has, the ending is unique and was one of the neatest parts of the entire game. Even then, it’s not exactly a suitable award for putting up with the difficulties of playing Dirty Harry.

#114 – Dirty Harry

Posted In: Finished

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