Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#157 – Guerrilla War

Ikari Warriors can be really good if you give it a different name.

Reset the NES to see this screen longer than a frame or two.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 5/14/20 – 5/17/20
Difficulty: 1/10
My Difficulty: 1/10
My Video: Guerrilla War Longplay

Ikari Warriors is still a game I think about often.  It’s hard not to when you spend 100 hours of mostly frustrating attempts trying to beat the game once.  I have yet to play either of the two NES sequels, but I got something better here with Guerrilla War.  The similarities in the two games are obvious just by looking at them.  We will cover all of that below, but I want to draw attention to the one major difference between the two games.  Ikari Warriors might be the hardest NES game to beat straight up, while Guerrilla War is close to the easiest game on the system.  How could things have changed so drastically?  It’s time to dig deeper and find out.

Guerrilla War was both developed and published by SNK.  It was first released in arcades in 1987, following the same game format and same rotary joystick controls as Ikari Warriors.  The game was ported to various home computers, as well as this NES version.  Japan receive the game first on Famicom in December 1988, then the NES got its version in June 1989.  In Japan this game is called Guevara, where you play the role of Che Guevara and second player Fidel Castro in their overthrow of the Cuban government in the 1950s.  That hits a little too close to home for the North American market, so the game was renamed to Guerrilla War with all historical references removed during the localization.

Guerrilla War is a top-down run-and-gun shooting game.  While the story was very clearly related to the Cuban revolution in Japan, it was watered down so much that it becomes a generic story for the US release.  A small island is under rule by an evil dictator.  You, and optionally your partner, must sneak onto the shore of the island and make your way across the island to the dictator’s headquarters so that you can overthrow him.  He has the full weight of his military behind him in an attempt to stop you.  There are ten areas in this game, culminating in the final battle against the dictator.  Beat the final boss to beat this game.

This evil dictator means business.

On powering on the game, you get an introductory cutscene briefly covering the story and your approach to the island.  The game goes right into the attract mode showing off the gameplay, or you can press Start to go to the title screen.  Here you’ll press Start and then choose from either a single-player or two-player game.  This has simultaneous play, so grab a friend and get to blasting.  If you hold either A or B on the screen before pressing Start, you then go to another options menu.  Here you’ll set the difficulty level from either Easy, Normal, or Hard, and you can even set your starting level anywhere from Stage 1 through Stage 9.  The default settings start you off from the beginning on Easy difficulty.

This game has simple controls.  You can walk in all eight directions with the D-pad.  Play typically moves from the bottom to the top, though the playfield can scroll left and right during some portions of the game as needed to follow the level layout.  The B button fires your standard machine gun, while the A button throws grenades.  You have infinite ammo, plus you can hold the buttons down for autofire.  You have two different pause buttons in the game, for some reason.  The Start button is the standard pause feature, while Select brings up the score and lives for both players and the high score.  Each button has a different pause sound effect as well.  It’s quite the luxury!

You’ll come across different waves and formations of enemies.  Similar to Ikari Warriors, soldiers all look the same but have different behaviors at times.  Green soldiers are the most common.  They can defend one location, they can emerge from the sides of the screen running across, they can run while occasionally stopping to shoot, they can lay on the ground and lob grenades, and so on.  Red and yellow soldiers are similar but they drop powerups for you when defeated.  You will also have to deal with enemies in tanks that can absorb several hits before going down.  Every now and then there are mini-bosses to fight, and there is some kind of boss encounter at the end of each stage.

Enemies blocking you? Blast your way through.

There are quite a few upgrades and powerups to use.  They are almost all indicated with a square icon with a letter inside.  The L item is a missile launcher that replaces your default weapon with a rocket launcher.  Rockets reach all the way across the screen, only stopping for either an enemy or a solid object.  The F is a flamethrower, which fires a wide band of flame ripping through anything in its path.  B is an upgrade for your standard grenades, making the explosion a little bit wider.  The S weapon is a simple 3-way spread shot using your standard bullets.  The T weapon is a cross between the L and S.  It fires rockets that explode on contact into a spray of three bullets, but it does not have the long range the L powerup does.  All these weapon upgrades above last until you die or collect a new powerup.  The C powerup is a clearing grenade that you hold until you press A to throw it.  It flashes the screen white and destroys all enemies.  The K is another smart bomb that detonates immediately when you collect it.  The N is just for bonus points, while the icon with a face on it gives you an extra life.  Also, there are plenty of prisoners to free.  Every prisoner you set free gives you 1000 points, but if you accidentally kill the prisoner then you lose 500 points.  They really don’t want you to be careless with your weaponry.

This game includes rideable tanks.  These are essentially temporary upgrades.  The tanks are clearly marked with the flashing word IN written on them, inviting you in to wreak some havoc.  Press A while standing over the tank to climb inside, and press A again to exit.  Because the tanks remove the use of the A button for grenades, you can only use your B button weapons.  The good news is that weapons are upgraded while inside the tank.  The rockets appear normal, but the standard bullets are much larger and more powerful, making the spread shot an ideal weapon for tank combat.  While inside the tank you can absorb smaller enemy bullets and run over soldiers with ease, but larger shots or grenades will send the tank into self-destruct mode.  This also happens normally over time.  Good things don’t last forever!  Make sure to exit the tank with A before it explodes and takes you down with it.

Now we come to the reason why this game is so easy.  You start the game with four extra lives, not counting the one you start with.  When you run out of lives you can continue.  In Guerrilla War, not only do you get infinite continues, but you get to continue from exactly where you left off.  When you resume play on a new life, you get a generous amount of invincibility time as well.  There is nothing stopping you from forcing your way through the game as fast as you can, abusing deaths at every turn through all the levels and bosses.  All you need is the time to sit through it.

Can’t have clean shirts in the middle of a fight.

This was not my first time playing through the game.  I did not own it as a kid but I played through it several times at a babysitter’s house.  When I completed my final collection push, I remembered the game and wanted to pick it up early on in that stretch.  I thought maybe I had bought the cart individually, perhaps at my local store, but I am not sure.  I know I have sold at least one copy of the game that I probably picked up in a lot.  This is roughly a $10 game today and I am pretty sure I paid around $5 for my copy.

My playthrough of Guerrilla War marks what may be an important inflection point in my completion journey.  Occasionally I have streamed attempts of games on Twitch, but my capture card software does not let me record and stream at the same time without a compromise in quality that I can’t accept.  When streaming I can only record locally at 30 fps, instead of the 60 fps rate I desire.  I did some digging and, using OBS for streaming, I was able to both stream and get my local recording at 60 fps.  Guerrilla War was my inaugural stream with my new setup.  As it turns out, the recording I got and the streaming quality itself was a disaster.  I needed some additional tuning to get the stream to not be choppy garbage while having the local recording at the proper framerate and quality.  I recorded a later playthrough with my old capture setup and no streaming while I worked out the kinks.  The next game and the several to follow that I’ve already beaten have all been streamed to Twitch.  Streaming has become a lot of fun and it’s another way to help validate my completions, so I intend for this to be the way I tackle the rest of the project going forward.

Rope as many prisoners as you can.

My recorded playthrough of the game was nothing exciting.  I started out on the first stage on hard difficulty, playing through the game that way.  My intent was a low-continue run, not really focusing on a pure single credit clear, but also not spamming death abuse as a way to press through the game.  The result was a slower, more careful playthrough, giving the game the respect it deserves.  I counted using six continues, mostly near the end of the game and especially the final boss.  This game would have been quite the challenge without continues, but instead it was a delightful romp.  Of note, in my longplay video I cut out about five minutes of dead time in the second to last stage.  I had to pause the game because my wife needed some help with the kids who were supposed to be sleeping.  Though this project is important to me, family comes first.

By implementing continuous play through the continue system, Guerrilla War is an excellent game for players of all skill levels to blast through alone or with a friend.  The graphics in this game are very nice.  Sure, there are lots of green, brown, and gray, but the environments are all varied and objects are clear and easy to see.  The soundtrack to the game is excellent as well, with music to suit the theme of each stage and lots of snappy snare drums.  The controls are responsive and handle the game well in the midst of constant attack.  The gameplay is really fast and frenzied a lot of the time with so many enemies of different behaviors around every turn.  This is a top tier NES game in every respect.  The only knock against it I can think of is that there is major sprite flicker.  Between all of the enemies, bullets flying, and large explosions, it is just something to be expected underneath the constraints of the NES.  For what it’s worth, the game runs fast with virtually no slowdown that I experienced.  Definitely check this game out.

#157 – Guerrilla War

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