Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#170 – Flight of the Intruder

A very long flight.

I have no idea what this is supposed to look like.

To Beat: Reach the ending
What I Did: Cleared every mission with 2nd highest rank overall
Played: 11/8/20 – 11/17/20
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Flight of the Intruder Longplay

It seems at first that the NES is littered with flight-based games, the ones that take place either from inside the cockpit or just behind the plane, and you can fly around in 3D space with enemies approaching from all angles.  They must have been somewhat popular as none of them are rare games.  Despite that, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, these games are just not for me.  I attempted to count up how many games fit this description just to see where I stand at 170 games in.  I have counted about a dozen or so, and Flight of the Intruder is the 4th completion of the bunch.  We are spreading these out nicely!  The first two games of these I’ve played, Top Gun and Laser Invasion, are both high quality, twitch action Konami affairs, while F-117A Stealth Fighter took a more tactical approach.  It’s not all bad, but Flight of the Intruder is clearly the least enjoyable of these titles.  Let’s break it down and see what it has to offer.

Flight of the Intruder is a novel written by Stephen Coonts.  He had previously served as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, and he used those experiences to begin writing a novel.  The book Flight of the Intruder was released in 1986, and the main character, Jake Grafton, would be the protagonist in many future books in the series.  Coonts has written dozens of books since then, up to the present day at the time of this writing.  Flight of the Intruder was adapted into a film in 1991, releasing to poor reviews and not making enough money at the box office to cover its $30 million budget.  A video game was also created in 1990, developed by Rowan Software for PCs.  Flight of the Intruder was released on the NES in May 1991, ported by Imagineering and published by Mindscape.  The game also came out in Europe under the name Phantom Air Mission, where it appears to be limited to only a release in Spain.  It is an extremely expensive game due to its rarity.

The plot of Flight of the Intruder, the novel and film, follows Jake Grafton throughout the Vietnam War.  The plot of the game as listed in the manual doesn’t include any of that story, opting for a more general take.  The only common bond is that both take place during Operation Linebacker in 1972 in Vietnam.  In the game, you play the role of an unnamed pilot who takes to the skies in both an F-4 Phantom and an A-6 Intruder across 12 missions throughout Vietnam around the timeline of Operation Linebacker.  Each mission in broken up into a series of waypoints that you will need to clear to complete your mission.

Just like Metroid, we start out going left.

Upon starting a game, the first thing you will come to is the Map Screen.  After receiving your mission briefing, you see the map zoomed in and the next waypoint blinking.  This will indicate what kind of encounter you will have.  Sometimes you can press Select to skip to different waypoints, whatever the mission necessitates.  Press either Start or A to take on this waypoint.

The next screen is the Takeoff and Landing screen.  This takes place from a side view of the aircraft on the carrier, with the aircraft facing left.  After a short animation of the crew on the ground, it’s on you get the plane off the ground.  Doing so is very easy, simply press and hold Left to increase thrust to 100% and you will automatically begin flying.  There are other points of data on the screen that are show during takeoff that only come into play when you are landing later on.

The starting waypoint in the game is one of the two main modes of action, the cockpit view.  From this first person perspective, you will dogfight with MiG 21 jets using your F-4 interceptor.  This game uses flight controls, meaning you press Up to fly downward and press Down to fly higher.  Left and Right bank your fighter in that direction.  The A button fires your weapons.  Your standard weapon is a machine gun.  You have unlimited ammo, but if you fire too much at once you will overheat and need to cool down a bit before you can fire more.  The Select button can switch between your machine gun and missiles.  The missiles have very limited ammo but are radar guided and will home in on the enemy.  You will need to get an enemy in your sights and lock on before you can get them with the missile.  The B button is used to adjust the thrust of the aircraft.  Hold B, then press Up to increase thrust or Down to decrease thrust.

There are all sort of instruments and things on screen.  The top half is your outside view through the window, where can see air, land, and approaching enemies and missiles.  In the center of that view are your crosshairs for aiming the machine gun.  Two numbers display on either side of that.  The left side value is your airspeed and the right display is your altitude gauge.  The lower half of the screen is the inside of the cockpit.  On the left you will see your thrust as a percentage.  Below that is the artificial horizon.  A circle is broken up into segments that are filled in to show the ground relative to your aircraft in the center of the circle.  For example, if you are flying straight and level, the bottom half will be filled in since the ground is below you, whereas if you are flying straight down the entire circle will be lit up to indicate you are flying directly toward the ground.  The center of the cockpit view is your radar that shows enemies as dots as they approach you.  The top half of the radar shows enemies in front of you that you could see above, and the bottom of the radar displays enemies behind you.  The right side is the message display that shows various information as you play.  When you switch weapons to missiles, the text display changes over to a missile indicator.  A triangle is drawn representing your ship along with small vertical lines to indicate each missile available.

Line em up, blast away, you know the drill.

The other gameplay view you have is in the bombing and strafing missions.  Here you see your A-6 Intruder from behind the aircraft.  Enemies will approach from the horizon as you fly overhead, and you are to blow up as many as possible.  The controls here are similar to the first person flying segments.  Use the D-pad with flying controls to steer, press A to fire air-to-ground missiles, and press B to shoot radar guided missiles.  The angle of your ship toward the ground determines where your bombs will land.  You have to compensate a bit for the time it takes for the bomb to strike.  There are no crosshairs for this mode, though the nearest target will highlight a bit on the approach and the hitboxes of the enemies are reasonably generous.  Much of the time these missions are just to fly through and survive, but some of them require you to defeat a primary target.  The mission itself will let you know.  If there’s   a primary target, the music will change a bit to indicate the upcoming targets are mandatory.  Fail to destroy them all and you will need to repeat a portion of the mission and approach again.

There’s other information on this screen you’ll need to understand.  The large number at the top is your score.  This carries over throughout the game, and it is also shown between missions.  There are three other numbers displayed in the row under the score.  The far left number is your strength value, essentially your hit points.  Enemy strikes deal multiple strength damage so avoidance is critical.  The center number is the DEFCON number.  Every target you let pass by subtracts one from the DEFCON number.  When it reaches 0, then any target that gets by will fire a guided surface-to-air (SAM) missile at you.  These are avoidable but are very dangerous and they deal a bunch of damage.  They often lead to more missed enemies and even more SAMs.  The far right number is how many missiles you have.  As you can imagine accuracy is important in these missions, and to that point there are certain targets in these missions that will restore a strength point when destroyed.  You want these if you hope to keep alive.  If strength is maxed out at 9, then it will restore a DEFCON point, and if that reaches 9 then an extra missile is added instead.  Furthermore, if you destroy all targets within a wave, each of those three will increase by one.  Nice!

Once the mission is over, it is important to land your fighter safely.  Landing takes place in the same side view as takeoff, only this time you need the measurements on display to help you land properly.  Left increases thrust and Right to lowers it.  A thrust value of 50% helps you maintain height, whereas higher numbers fly you upward and smaller numbers lower you.  The altitude shows how high you are, and the range shows how much farther to fly to reach the aircraft carrier.  The vertical velocity is important as you need to keep that value from going beyond -10 when landing to touch down safely.  To land, you will use the measurements and adjust thrust to lower your fighter and fly slowly down onto the aircraft carrier.  Press B to release your landing gear, you won’t get far without that.  You want to touch down as soon as you are overhead, then as you cross a series of four cables on the deck, press A to lower your hook to grab a cable and come to a complete stop.  If you don’t hook a cable, you will have to fly through and approach again.  I believe too many misses will cost you a life so make sure you don’t mess up too much.  The game also encourages you to grab the third cable with the hook as evidently that’s what the best pilots do and you are awarded more points that way.

Bombing runs require some calculated aiming.

This was my first time playing Flight of the Intruder, which is no surprise.  I barely remember putting this game into my console to test it prior to this.  I’m not entirely sure but I think someone gave me this game, like a “here I found this in my house you can have it” kind of find.  I might have the box and manual for this somewhere too.  This game isn’t very common but it’s affordable, coming it at around $12 or so for a loose cart.

I did not have an easy time with this game at the start.  The first mission is one of the first person missions and the combat feels a little bit slow and is hard to come to grasps with quickly.  Notably, the gun lags behind a bit, meaning you have to shoot in front of the enemy to hit it.  It’s probably realistic but is a bit frustrating to play.  The enemies also take quite a few hits to go down, and you’ll run out of missiles in the later missions which one-shot the enemies after you lock on.  There’s also fuel to worry about and if you take too long in a mission you’ll crash, which happened a lot later on in the game when there were more enemies.  I had to fly around a lot to try and get behind the enemy, while also avoiding their missiles, and it’s just a lot to handle under a time limit.

The good thing is I did come up with a strategy.  It almost feels like an exploit.  The trick is to fly sideways.  I turn 90 degrees to the right, lining up the horizon vertically in the center of the screen.  Then I just fly up the entire time.  This accomplishes a few things.  First, it keeps the enemies from getting behind me.  Second, when they end up in front, they tend to fly in the same direction attempting to get away and so they sit in front of you long enough to blast away and you can deal a ton of damage.  Third, if they fire a homing missile, it won’t hit me from behind because I’m constantly spinning, and for the ones in front, I’m either in good position to shoot them down or just keep flying up to dodge them.  It’s really the perfect strategy.  

Land softly, then hook the wire to stop.

The other gameplay modes I didn’t have much of a problem with.  Bombing runs are pretty straightforward even though they appear awkward initially.  You can tell by the animation frame of the fighter how low you will land your bombs, so it’s just a matter of learning the timing of aiming.  You will also need to swerve out of the way of enemy fire at the same time, but that sounds harder than it actually is.  At least after lots of practice.  Takeoff is super simple, and I eventually got the hang of landing pretty much every time.  Practice makes perfect, as they say.

The worst thing about this game is how long it is.  There are 12 missions in total, each one longer than the last.  And I mean longer in terms of both number of waypoints and number of targets in each waypoint.  The skirmishes themselves don’t get much more challenging, just more missiles and such to deal with.  It’s mostly more and more enemies to kill within the same time limits, fake difficulty at its finest.  My full playthrough covering every possible waypoint took nearly two and a half hours.  I didn’t realize you could skip sub-missions until after I had finished, and I wouldn’t have regardless, but two-plus hours of the same repeated gameplay is tedious, to say the least.  You only get a few lives and continues to get you through the game, but as long as the losses are occasional, you’ll be fine.  There is also a scoring system here complete with ranks for how many points you have scored across the missions.  I ended up with the Admiral rank, the second highest rank, despite completing every mission and sub-mission along the way.  I had 1,868,600 total points but needed 2,000,000 to get Fleet Admiral.  The scoring system is more nuanced than I would have expected and that is why I didn’t get the best rank.  It does not affect the ending in any way.

I would say this is a competent game that’s just not very fun.  Graphically, it looks okay.  There is good detail to the fighters in the landing and takeoff sequences.  The enemies you fight are distinct but kinda muddled looking.  The music is also just okay, filling up space.  There are no tunes during the first person areas, only the constant beeping of approaching homing missiles.  The other songs aren’t awful but not super catchy or fun either, probably because I got sick of them through the long play time.  The controls are responsive and easy to use, maybe a little bit cumbersome in first person but nothing too bad.  The gameplay is good enough, what you would expect out of a game like this, and there’s just a touch of variety along the way.  There’s nothing really bad here I would say, it’s just that this game is so boring.  It goes on way too long if you intend to see it through.  I play pretty late at night and I’m surprised I managed to stay awake during the entire game.  An hour of this would have been more manageable, and honestly still too long, but two and a half hours of this is just exhausting.  Hopefully this one ends up the worst of all the flight games.

#170 – Flight of the Intruder

#170 – Flight of the Intruder

Posted In: Finished

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