Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#121 – To The Earth

Get your trigger finger ready, you are gonna need it!

Going to Earth? How hard could that be?

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/7/19 – 4/27/19
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10
My Video: To The Earth Longplay

Before starting this project, I had a pretty good idea of what the hardest NES games were going to be. I already had 10-20 games earmarked as potential 10/10s. To The Earth was on my radar but I was certain it would end up a 9/10 for me. As I struggled to make progress and the attempts piled up, I was won over to the idea of rating this a 10/10. It stands up as one of the hardest NES games and likely the most difficult Zapper game to beat.

To the Earth released in November 1989 in North America and in February 1990 in Europe. This NES-exclusive game was published by Nintendo and developed by Cirque Verte. There is very little known about the developer of this game. Evidently Cirque Verte was discovered in copyright records as the author of To The Earth. This is the only game credited to them. I can’t figure out if Cirque Verte is a company or if it is a pseudonym for the actual developer. Very strange.

The story for To The Earth takes place in the year 2050. Earth is under a biological attack from the Raggosians. You are in the cockpit of a spaceship called The Tempest. Your mission is to collect resources from Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon so that you can create an antibacterial agent to defend society from the Raggosian attack. The enemy is relentlessly trying to stop The Tempest from its journey, so you must use your Zapper to fend off the enemy. There are four levels in the game that you must clear to beat the game.

Many passive enemies start off this journey.

This is a very simple game to control and play. To start, plug the Zapper into the second controller port and optionally plug a normal controller into the first port. You can control the game entirely with the Zapper. You fire to start the game and fire to begin each mission. The only thing the controller is used for is to pause the game by pressing Start. When enemies appear on screen, shoot them with your Zapper. You can let most enemies go by harmlessly. Many enemies fire missiles that you can destroy with your Zapper.

The game takes place from the perspective of the cockpit of The Tempest. Therefore, the lower part of the screen contains your ship’s data. You can see the score, destination, and how many minerals you have collected. The most important thing to pay attention to is the yellow energy bar in the center of the dashboard. This is your lifeline and primary mechanic in the game. You lose some energy if you get hit by an enemy or a missile. You gain energy back if you shoot an enemy ship. You lose a little bit of energy if you shoot and miss. You don’t gain or lose any energy whenever you shoot and destroy an enemy missile. You are beaten when you run out of energy, so with the way the system is structured your best chance for success is to shoot as many things as possible as accurately as possible.

There are some pickups that will help. Periodically, a friendly ship will fly across the screen from right to left. There is an E icon in the lower left that appears here. Shoot the E to restore half of your energy. Do not shoot the friendly ship! If you do, you lose a ton of energy. Sometimes a comet will appear on the right side of the screen. Shoot the comet to earn a barrier shield. This lets you take several enemy missile hits without losing any energy. The dashboard changes colors as you suffer damage and when it is red it means you have one hit remaining before the shield is gone. The final item is the smart bomb. You earn this after defeating so many enemies when you are at full energy. The bomb appears blinking in the lower right corner when you have one. Simply shoot the smart bomb to destroy all enemies and missiles on screen. You also earn energy for each enemy defeated just like normal, so the smart bomb is best utilized whenever multiple enemies are on screen.

Just shoot the energy capsule, not the ship.

The game starts off gently. The first stage isn’t that difficult. Some enemies here move pretty quickly but many of them don’t attack you. You will get your first taste of enemy missiles and shooting them down to defend yourself. You get some opportunities to refill your energy and get your barrier shield. At certain times, the screen will flash an alarm and display either Condition Yellow or Condition Red. This is the game’s way of giving you a natural pause. You can sit on this screen for as long as you want, then shoot the Zapper to continue playing. Each level ends in a boss fight. These are the only encounters in the game that take multiple hits to destroy. The first boss is Tri-Opticon, which naturally has three segments you have to destroy.

The second level ramps things up a bit. Most enemies shoot missiles, and some enemies fire more than one missile. I found this level provided the best chance of defeating enemies just as they show up but before they fire at you. This level also introduces the asteroid field. These parts generate a series of asteroids. The lower ones will hit and damage your ship, so make sure to identify and shoot those down. The end-level boss is Zambuka, a long space snake. This level can be tricky but I handled it well.

The third level is where the game gets hard. You start off with a lengthy series of ships that all fire missiles. This part can down you in a hurry if you start missing shots. This level introduces the hyper missile, which is hands down the most difficult thing to deal with in the entire game. These missiles look like spiky balls and move about twice as fast as the normal missiles. You can shoot them down but the timing is very difficult and you need to anticipate where they originate from on the screen to have a real chance of defending yourself. The boss here is Gyron that is surrounded by mini-satellites. I’ll say more about the final level a little later but suffice it to say it is incredibly difficult. The final boss and last line of Raggosian defense is Nemesis.

After each stage, you see a screen that contains for each stage your score, number of shots taken, number of hits, and your accuracy percentage. You also get a total of those columns for the entire game and you get your overall high score at the top. You get the same screen if you lose a level by running out of energy. You are allowed to continue two times at the start of the level where you died.

Often it’s best to shoot only the missiles.

To The Earth was a game I had in my childhood collection. We might have bought this game brand new for cheap, but I can’t remember. I played a few levels of it casually. A couple of years ago, in the Nintendo Age forum thread where everyone collectively beats every NES game, this was the last game remaining. I worked on it for a few days until someone else finished it up. My best progress at that time was near the end of Level 3. This is a cheap, common cart that should cost no more than $5.

The difficulty curve in this game is very severe. It is a gentle curve up until the start of the third level. That first onslaught can be tough but I rarely had issues with it. The introduction of the hyper missiles is what bumps this game up to 10/10. There are a few in the middle of the level but you can just take the hit and be alright. Before the boss there are multiple enemies that all fire hyper missiles. Here there are too many to absorb so you have to fire away and hope for the best. If you can make it past that, the final level is the ultimate test. Nearly every enemy fires hyper missiles. If you can’t defend yourself, you will lose energy very quickly and that’s that. That last level is one of the nastiest single levels I’ve ever played in a game.

My past experience gave me a good start this time. In fact, I don’t think I failed out once in either of the first two levels. The final part of Mission 3 was the first place I got stuck. I needed somewhere around five to ten tries from the start to finally clear Level 3. Keep in mind that since you get two continues, that could have meant I took as many as 30 attempts just at that one part. The final level was even worse. Much worse. I had trouble getting through the first part of the stage with just the normal missiles. After that, everything shoots the hyper missiles for the rest of the time. My accuracy in the first three missions was close to 90%, but with the hyper missiles that dropped to about 75% for that final mission. It is a lengthy stage too just like the others. I spent about two weeks making attempts on that final stage. I could consistently reach Mission 4 with all continues intact. I estimate I played that final level 60-80 times before finally winning. This is another case where I wish I kept better track of my attempts. Either way, that is a significant amount of time. My winning run came on my last attempt that session and on my last continue. I had went to sleep early and woke up wide awake in the middle of the night after about four hours of sleep. So, like any responsible person would do, I got up and played some To The Earth. I beat the game at 3:30am and it was tough to fall asleep after riding that victory high.

If you can even reach this boss, you are doing well.

The thing that makes To The Earth beatable is that the game is almost completely predictable. Enemies approach from the same direction, make the same movements, and fire missiles at the same time. Missiles always move at the same trajectory, and subsequent waves of enemies always come in the same order with the same timing. It’s entirely scripted, is what I’m trying to say. You can use that to your advantage to predict when and where enemies appear. A lot of times you can take out enemies when they are just specks in the distance before they get close enough to fire missiles. In some cases that was mandatory to keep from dying. I found that the game was very rhythmic. I would match my movements and trigger timing to the enemy’s approach. That was particularly helpful when trying to defend against a series of hyper missiles. The only thing I found in the game that was not predicable was that sometimes the game would not pause on the final Condition Red in the fourth stage. It was too easy to let my guard down there and that got me in trouble more than a few times.

When I was struggling to figure out the final level, I got some advice from another player who had beaten the game. He recommended I mess around with the settings on my TV. The claim was you can put the settings in a way that makes it much easier to hit the targets. The manuals for Zapper games do recommend adjusting the brightness and contrast on the TV so that the two can work together as intended. The wrong settings can cause the light gun not to pick up on direct hits, which obviously would be frustrating. On my TV, I already had the brightness turned all the way up and there was no contrast setting. I was hoping to introduce some blur to the image that might give the enemies a larger hitbox. After messing with the TV settings for a while, my results were inconclusive. This is a dark game, so it does make sense to turn the brightness all the way up on the TV. Maybe my settings were already optimal from the start since the hitboxes seemed to be generous enough. It’s just something to keep in mind in case you want to play.

Swarms of enemies with hyper missiles are the worst.

Now it’s time to see how this game stacks up against the other 10/10s. This one is tough for me to decide because all games are very different from each other. I have chosen to put To The Earth as #3 on my current list. My first two are set and are probably going to be at the top together for a long time. I am really trying to compare To The Earth and High Speed and these two games aren’t alike in any way. To The Earth is a 20 minute game and High Speed took me over two hours, but To The Earth took so many more attempts at just one singular level. I think that’s the determining factor to me. You have a lot more leeway with High Speed and all the extra balls you can earn, permitting you to make more mistakes and retry some of the boards multiple times to get the win. You don’t get that breathing room with To The Earth. It’s a close call, but I’d say To The Earth is the more difficult game. Here is my current 10/10 ranking board:

Ikari Warriors
To The Earth
High Speed

To The Earth is a very difficult game, but it is a pretty good Zapper game. The graphics are average I would say. The enemy sprites look detailed and there are several frames of size of each one when you see them from the distance. Backgrounds are usually just stars but you do get to see the planets as you approach the bosses. The music is simple and mostly quiet, but it is fine. You really need a good Zapper with a strong trigger to play this game. That is especially evident during the bosses where you have to drain dozens of shots into them. The main drawback to the game is the high level of difficulty, and also have the proper setup of CRT TV and a Zapper. Even casually it is enjoyable for at least the first couple of levels as a pure target shooter. There is enough depth and strategy to it if you really want to dive in. This was a good accomplishment for me. I just hope there aren’t any harder light gun games after this one.

#121 – To The Earth

Posted In: Finished

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