Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#135 – Cabal

Shoot the background and the enemies within.

Skulls with wings make for very attractive title screens.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 9/27/19 – 10/2/19
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Cabal Longplay

Cabal turned out to be a pleasant surprise for a couple of reasons. First, it has a style of gameplay that is not commonly seen on older consoles like the NES. I don’t think it’s wholly unique on the console, but it is underrepresented at least. The second reason is it turned out to be an easier game than I anticipated going in. With so many games to play, I’ll always appreciate that. It’s always a good time blowing stuff up, and you’ll get a lot of that in playing Cabal.

Cabal first released in the arcades in 1988. The game was developed by TAD Corporation, published in Japan by Taito, and published in North America and Europe by Fabtek. The game was successful enough to be ported over to the NES and various computers. The NES version released in June 1990 in North America only. Here it was developed by Rare and published by Milton Bradley.

The story here is a simple one. You play the role of a soldier ordered by Major I.M. Havoc. The Dreaded Republic of Allied Terrorists, i.e. D.R.A.T., is planning a massive terrorist assault and you are the one tasked to diffuse the situation. You get to go in alone, or with a partner, into the terrorist camp and destroy it from within. Leave no man standing, that sort of thing. Your mission covers five levels of four scenes each. Complete each level to win this game.

Duck and cover.

Cabal is a shoot-em-up from a third-person perspective. Your character sits along the bottom of the screen shooting into the background while various enemy soldiers fire at you. Your attention is divided two ways. You shoot at the enemy via a targeting reticle on the screen and you move this around freely. When you are shooting you stand in place, leaving yourself open to attack. When you stop shooting, then you control both yourself and your crosshairs. To succeed in this game, you need to juggle between shooting at the bad guys and getting out of harm’s way.

Here are the controls for Cabal. Use the D-pad to move your crosshairs in all directions. Press and hold the A button to fire your machine gun and its unlimited ammo. Holding down A locks your feet into place. If you tap and release A quickly, you will lob a grenade. It has to be a very light tap. You have limited grenades as displayed on the bottom of the screen. Holding down the B button gives you some advanced movement options. B with Left and Right lets you run. If you press diagonally up with B held, you will jump and dive into a roll, while diagonally down with B does a duck and roll. While rolling, you can change directions a little bit to help dodge.

In addition to the perspective, another neat thing about this game is all the things you can destroy. Different enemies appear constantly, sometimes hiding behind parts of the background. With enough firepower, you can destroy many of the obstacles in the way. Buildings, towers, walls, stationary vehicles, all are fair game. For larger objects, they might go through several phases of damage before crumbling entirely. Sometimes it is helpful to remove the hiding spots in order to defeat enemies more quickly. Most levels begin with walls in front that give you some temporary protection from enemy fire. I say temporary because they will fall to firepower eventually, including from your own shots if you aim too low.

Many background features are destructible.

There are some powerups that aid you. Sometimes enemies drop these when defeated, while others are revealed from your various acts of destruction. The most common pickups are stars that are just for points. You may find extra grenades for your stash. You can also pick up some temporary enhancements for your machine gun in the form of a red rifle and a blue rifle. I believe the red rifle gives you wider crosshairs while the blue one gives you faster rapid fire. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, though the extra firepower certainly did help take down more stuff.

This game has a common flow over its five stages. You need to defeat a certain number of enemies per scene to clear it. There is a long Enemy bar at the bottom of the screen that shrinks for every enemy you defeat. Once you defeat enough bad guys to empty the bar, the level ends immediately. All remaining destructible objects are knocked down while you run gleefully forward toward the next scene. Completing the fourth scene in each level opens up a boss battle. The boss’s health bar is displayed at the top, simply shoot the boss enough to take it out. The bosses are damage sponges so this will take some time.

There are several types of enemies that appear throughout the stages. Standard green soldiers are the bulk of what you’ll see. They walk across the screen, eventually stopping to fire at you. The white soldiers are really annoying. They behave similarly to the green soldiers, only they stop to lob grenades that you can shoot to detonate while airborne. They also roll out of the way when shot. They take quite a lot of firepower to defeat. Tanks sit still for a while before driving forward and shooting. A direct grenade takes them out, or a lot of machine gun fire. Helicopters swoop across the top of the screen and fire a stream of bullets. Bombers quickly appear to drop bombs straight down. You can blow up the bombs before they land just like grenades. Soldiers in scuba gear pop out of the water briefly to shoot you. There are also harmless medics that pass by. They don’t appear often and I always avoided shooting them so I don’t know what happens if you shoot them.

Scuba divers don’t give you much advance warning.

This game has both lives and continues. You begin with four lives. You get an extra life for beating the end-of-level boss, but that’s all. When you run out of lives, you can continue three times. Continues are essentially an extra set of lives and you keep playing right from where you died with no interruption or setbacks. If you are score chasing, keep in mind that continuing resets your score back to 0, but that’s the only drawback.

This was my first time playing through Cabal. I’ve only played this during cart testing and only played just a few scenes. I don’t think I did very well playing. This is not a super common cart, but it isn’t terribly hard to find and it’s not that expensive, selling for around $6 or so.

I expected this game to be much harder to beat than it was, considering my brief experience from the past. It turns out, at least for me, that the first few stages are pretty challenging compared to most levels in the game. I found a good strategy that was most helpful for the middle levels in the game. It took me four attempts total to beat the game. On the third attempt, I got all the way to the final boss and lost. I had no trouble on the fourth try, only needing to use two out of my three continues to beat the game. A couple days later I sat down to record my longplay video and that time I needed all three continues to win. Still, it was a pretty comfortable victory considering that.

Hiding behind walls in the corners was my best strategy.

I have some observations about the game that led me to discovering a solid strategy. It didn’t take long to see that the enemies always appear from the same locations at the same intervals. Soldiers often walk in from either side of the screen. Once you clear out the obstacles and take out a few soldiers close together, they will reappear in the same order. I got into a rhythm where I could empty out the screen and figure out about when the next wave would walk in. I positioned my guy on the side of the screen where the most soldiers appeared so that I could blow them away right when they appeared, before they could stop and fire. Often, I had enough time to get the ones on the other side of the screen too. Levels with mostly green soldiers are easy with this strategy, but it gets trickier with enemies like white soldiers and the scuba divers. What helps with that is I noticed that rolling on the ground is very effective at avoiding standard fire. Either you can’t get hit while rolling or your hitbox is very small. I got into the habit of rolling constantly anytime I was under fire until I found a safe spot to open up and fire. This is not a foolproof strategy, but it kept me from dying enough to beat the game.

Cabal is a fun shoot-em-up on the NES that I enjoyed played. The graphics and animations are pretty good. There can be a lot of activity going on the screen at once, from destructible buildings to grenades exploding to blankets of bullet fire, sometimes all at once. Unavoidably, the sprites flicker, but the game whistles along and I didn’t remember any slowdown. The controls might seem cumbersome at first, but I adapted to them quickly. Controlling both your player and the crosshairs takes some getting used to, and I can see it not clicking with everyone. I don’t remember much at all about the music, which usually tells me that it wasn’t that great anyway. The boss battles are pretty well done but tend to drag on a bit. The levels can drag on too. This is a repetitive game by nature, but it is a short enough game that it is okay by me. There is a mix of good and bad things here, but overall it is a fine game.

#135 – Cabal

Posted In: Finished

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