Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#136 – Amagon

Not to be confused with Amazon.

Either Amagon is huge or his plane is tiny.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/5/19 – 10/12/19
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Amagon Longplay

The process of reviewing games after I beat them is interesting in part because my opinion can fluctuate all the way until the end of the game. At first blush, Amagon is a solid, but uninspiring platformer. It quickly becomes quite a challenge. As I’m battling through, a few neat surprises show up improving my disposition toward the game. Then the crushing difficulty settles back in and I make no movement ahead. Finally, all of a sudden, the game clicks with me and it almost becomes trivial to complete the entire game. If I reviewed the game after playing only a little bit, I would have dismissed it as frustrating. Instead, I have more measured thoughts on what this game accomplishes. Let’s get to the bottom of what Amagon is all about.

Amagon appeared only on the NES and Famicom. The Japanese release, named Totsuzen! Machoman, arrived in December 1988. The NES release had the name changed to Amagon when it came out in April 1989. The game was developed by Aicom Corporation. The Famicom version was published by Vic Tokai, while American Sammy took publishing rights for the NES version. This game hasn’t seen a re-release anywhere, so the only official way to play this game is with the actual cart.

The story is a simple one. Amagon is a marine sent on a mission to check out a strange island from which no one has every returned. Amagon flies to the island only to crash land his plane on a beach. At the opposite end of the island is another beach where his rescue ship is located. Armed with only a machine gun, Amagon makes his way across the island to secure his mission and return home safely. His journey covers six geographical zones, each containing two stages each. The game is won once all twelve levels are completed.

Spiders and mushrooms, both typical game enemies.

Amagon is a run-and-gun game with simple controls. Use Left and Right to walk around, press and hold Down to duck, and you can jump with A. Jumping is rather stiff. Amagon jumps very high but doesn’t cover much horizontal distance. Amagon wields a machine gun with B. Bullets are only fired straight ahead and reach about half of the width of the screen. He begins with 300 bullets as indicated at the top of the screen. Once you run out of bullets, he will hold his gun over his head and you can only use it as a short-range melee weapon with B. The Start button pauses the game.

Enemies can drop powerups that help Amagon. Bullet packs add 20 bullets to his ammo. The always appreciated 1ups give you extra lives. A powerup showing a flexing man is called the Mega-key. This powerup doesn’t seem to do anything at first glance, other than to sometimes display “Go!” at the top of the screen. The rest of the powerups increase your score. Clearly marked powerups increase your score by 500, 1,000, 3,000, or 5,000 points. A crown gives you 10,000 points. As you can see, most of the powerups are only for increasing your score, and there’s a good reason for that.

Amagon is a fragile character. A single hit from an enemy or an enemy bullet will defeat him. The key to getting far into this game is to use the Mega-key to transform into Megagon. To use the Mega-key after you collect it, first you need to have scored at least 5,000 points. This is what causes “Go!” to display at the top. Then press Select to become Megagon. Now you are a bulking behemoth of a man that can both deal tons more damage to enemies and also absorb damage from enemies with his newly acquired health bar. You trade 5,000 points from your score for each unit of his health bar. Megagon can have a maximum of 14 health points if you have 70,000 points or more. You remain as Megagon until either you run out of health, you reach the end of the stage, or you fall into a hole. Running out of health transforms you back into regular Amagon. Reaching the end of the stage also puts you back to normal, though your leftover health converts back into score for the next level.

Megagon pummels even strong enemies with ease.

Though Megagon is very powerful, there are some tradeoffs to assuming his form. The controls are the same for both characters. You trade your machine gun for a punching attack. The hitbox for this attack is incredibly generous. While it doesn’t hit too far in front of him, punching has a very tall range. You can punch low enemies while standing while also reaching enemies just above your head. Punches are eight times as strong as Amagon’s regular attacks, so this is the preferred way to fight big enemies and bosses. Enemies defeated while you are Megagon do not drop powerups, which matters if your score is low or if you could use an extra 1up somewhere. Megagon has a special laser beam attack performed by holding Up and pressing B. This is a tall wave shot that tears through enemies and is twice as strong as his punch, but at the cost of one health point. You can’t use this if you are out of health either.

The different zones in the game all have a similar structure. You begin on the coast, then you travel through the jungle, river, deep jungle, and the mountains before finishing at the beach on the opposite side of the island. Each zone has two stages. The first stage usually ends in a fight with one or two of the larger enemies in that zone’s enemy set. The second stage culminates in a boss battle. These battles are pretty weird as you fight things such as a double-sided lion head and a walking tree.

Amagon has a continue system and you get unlimited continues, but there’s a catch. First off, the continue system only kicks in once you reach Zone 4. When you run out of lives and have the opportunity to continue, you can only resume play from one of the zones you’ve already cleared on that credit. For instance, if you continue from Zone 4, you can only choose from Zones 2 and 3. From there, if you lose in Zone 3, you are forced to restart from the beginning. You keep your score when you continue, which helps a little. Continuing almost isn’t worth it if you have a low score, since that limits how far you can get as Megagon.

This game has goofy bosses and I am here for it.

This was my first time playing through Amagon. I have tinkered with this game a bit before and I always failed out in the first stage. I am glad to have finally figured this game out since I did enjoy my little time with the game. This is an affordable cart at around $5. I have had a few copies of this cart during collecting. I actually owned a copy of this game that did not work. The cart itself was in great shape, the pins were nice and clean, and the circuit board looked to be in good shape. It just wouldn’t do anything inside the NES. I ended up keeping the shell and swapped in a good circuit board before offloading the other copy as broken in an eBay lot.

I pretty much summarized my experience playing through Amagon in my introduction to this blog post. This game is tough to get started. Falling spiders get in your way. Flying birds move quickly and are tough to react to. Jumping is more helpful in the vertical than the horizontal. You fall fast so you don’t cover much distance, meaning gaps are tough to cross and enemies aren’t so easy to jump over. Wasps fire bullets in a spread pattern and I needed a strategy to cope with them. You don’t get a Mega-key until near the end of the stage and everything is out to get you before that point. This part teaches you how to be effective as normal Amagon while allowing you to build up some score for your upcoming transformation to Megagon. Getting to that point however is pretty challenging, especially for the early part of the game.

Falling snails are no match for Megagon.

The game does get easier once you clear the first stage, but while progress was steady for a little while, I really struggled once I got to Zone 3. That’s the river zone, which provides dangers like leaping fish and logs floating on the river. I had many runs die out once I got this far, and it never really felt like I was learning anything about the patterns and enemies coming up. The solution to all this was really quite simple: Be Megagon every possible chance you get. I was focusing too much on progressing as Amagon because I didn’t want to miss any extra life drops and I wanted to keep my score high for later. I’m also a powerup hoarder in games by nature. I do well enough from playing that way for the most part, so I suppose that’s why I was hesitant to give in to becoming Megagon more often. Many levels give you a Mega-key very early in the level so there’s big incentive to use it right away. I did well as Megagon so I always traded back extra health for points at the end of the stage, and I never came close to running out of score. I did play more early game as regular Amagon than was really necessary, the parts that I learned anyway. A bit of a buffer is always nice just in case. I more or less breezed through the rest of the game once I embraced the Megagon strategy.

Amagon is a solid NES game, but I don’t think it presents itself very well overall. Graphically the game has a cartoony look that is more simplistic in nature. The music in the game is just okay, mostly unmemorable. The ending theme is awful and not a suitable reward for finishing this tricky game. The controls are responsive. The stiff jumping makes things tougher than they need to be sometimes, particularly during the small amount of necessary platforming. Playing as Megagon is pretty fun, ripping through enemies and bosses with relative ease. The better you play, the more time you’ll have as Megagon. For me that meant the game became more fun once I got better. The boss fights were a pleasant surprise that I was not expecting to see in this game. I think that was because the overall presentation of this game feels like a game from a couple years earlier than when it was released. NES games were getting quite advanced and polished by 1989 and Amagon feels dated by that standard. I classify it as an average run-and-gun style platformer, though as usual, I had fun with it.

#136 – Amagon

Astyanax Box Cover

#18 – Astyanax

Does anyone even know how to pronounce Astyanax?

The graphics are quite nice!

The graphics are quite nice!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/29/16 – 3/4/16
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10

With NES game prices still on the collective rise, there are plenty of inexpensive games remaining and a number of them are more fun to play than their price tag would suggest. Astyanax is a common game that runs around $5 and I think the experience here is good enough to justify the cost. It’s a bit clumsy at times, the story is pretty hokey, and it takes some time to get accustomed to the gameplay, but nevertheless I had fun with the game.

The Astyanax was released in arcades in late 1989. In Japan, the game is known as The Lord of King. It was developed by Aicom and published by Jaleco. The NES version was just called Astyanax and was released on the NES in March 1990. It was released in Europe and Japan around the same time as the US. This is the first Jaleco game covered for Take On The NES Library. Jaleco is one of the more prolific NES publishers with 22 games to their credit. Sometimes, Jaleco is also attributed as the developer for the NES game. It’s hard to say for sure who actually developed Astyanax. The NES game maintains similar mechanics to the arcade version, but it is a completely different game with a different story, levels, and bosses.

Astyanax is a side-scrolling action game. You play as a high school student named Astyanax who gets pulled into another dimension and you must save Princess Rosebud from the evil wizard Blackhorn. You are armed with a battle axe used to defeat enemies. You can also jump and use magic spells. One of the primary mechanics in this game is the power meter. The power meter determines how much damage your attacks will do. It charges up until it either reaches the max or you attack. Swinging the axe resets the power meter back to zero. The idea is that you can swing the axe constantly for little damage, or wait a little bit to perform a much stronger attack. Either approach can work depending on the situation.

Yup gotta save that princess

Yup gotta save that princess

You also have a magic meter that lets you cast three magic spells. You can switch the active spell at any time by pausing the game and selecting which spell to use. Spells are activated by holding up and pressing B just like the subweapons in Castlevania. The first spell is Bind which freezes all enemies for a few seconds. This spell is incredibly useful because it also lets Astyanax walk right through frozen enemies without taking any kind of damage or knockback. The Blast spell attacks all enemies within a pretty wide range and it costs more than the Bind spell. The Bolt spell is the most expensive spell but it does major damage to all enemies on screen.

There are also powerups you can obtain by destroying statues placed throughout the levels. Red potions recover a bit of health and blue potions fully restore health. The power supply looks sort of like a worm and it increases your maximum power meter. The wing lets you recharge your power meter faster. The axe powerup lets you change your weapon. You start off with the axe. The first powerup switches the axe for a spear, and the next one upgrades from the spear to the sword. The spear is weird in that is it pretty much a downgrade as it’s the weakest weapon. The default axe is in the middle and the sword is the most powerful. The stronger the weapon, the stronger the magic attacks are, but the tradeoff is that spells are more expensive when using stronger weapons. Sometimes it is to your advantage to carry the spear for awhile to be able to cast the Bind spell more often in order to clear tough sections of a level. Another powerup you’ll find is the fairy Cutie. She acts like your guide throughout the story segments of the game. When you find her in the levels, you can either have her refill all your magic or she will let you select which weapon you want to use. Finally, you can find a mini Astyanax figure for a 1up.

I know there's danger ahead but don't skip the powerups!

I know there’s danger ahead but don’t skip the powerups!

Astyanax has six levels and each level except for the first level has two sub-levels. The levels take place in typical locales such as a castle, the forest, the mountains, and so on. Most of the levels have you going from left to right, but a few levels are vertical. One of the later levels is a maze where you need to navigate a series of rooms while looking for the correct door in order to proceed. Along the way you will fight stronger ground enemies like skeletons or trolls as well as weaker airborne enemies like birds. There is some platforming involved as well which is pretty tricky given the onslaught of enemies. This is where plant enemies tend to appear up out of the ground and toss projectiles at you that will often knock you back into pits. The Bind spell is almost essential for these platforming portions since the spell effect usually lasts long enough to cross over all the pits ahead. If you run out of magic at any time it makes the levels quite a bit more challenging.

At the end of each sub-level you are greeted by a mini-boss. Each one is about your size and they have a lot more health than the average enemies. Some have more complicated movement patterns, some throw projectiles, and others even have magic spells that they cast against you. They are often accompanied by a full health powerup so they aren’t too difficult to deal with at full health. About half of the sub-levels follow up these fights with a real boss encounter. These bosses are much larger and they usually are as tall as the screen so they can be much more formidable just due to their size. There is no health recovery between the mini-boss and the level boss so that adds to the challenge. In a departure from most games, all the spells are equally as effective against the bosses as they are against the basic enemies. Even the Bind spell stops them dead in their tracks, so that alleviates some of the frustration. Dying against the boss is a real pain because any death sends you all the way back to the beginning of the sub-level, plus it degrades your weapon down one level. You do get unlimited continues though so you can just keep plugging away at it and make progress that way.

There is also an overarching story that is driven via cutscenes in between each level. This is very much like the Ninja Gaiden games in that you play some levels, fight a boss, and watch story cutscenes. The story itself is nothing to write home about, but it’s there and can provide a reason to keep going I guess.

Cut him in the face just like a hero

Cut him in the face just like a hero.

This was my first time playing Astyanax. I didn’t own this one as a kid but I remember reading about it in some gaming guidebooks I had. I ended up with several copies through buying game lots. That means I have had lots of opportunities to play the first three or four screens of the first stage! My first impression was that the game is really clunky. The jumping is slow and the attack is just a bit slow too. I had to play around a bit and get used to the timing, but it eventually clicked. Attacking enemies in the air is really difficult to get the hang of because you have to attack a bit earlier than you would think to make contact, and whenever the enemies are moving too it makes it all the more difficult. I got better at it but I still missed attacks a lot. Utilizing the spells makes the game so much easier. Pretty much any time I encountered a gap I would cast the Bind spell so that I could happily pass right through. I used Bind almost exclusively in the game though I made headway on some of the later bosses with the Blast spell. I didn’t use Bolt at all because I rarely had enough magic power to use it anyway.

It only took me two nights of playing to finish Astyanax. The first night was sort of a trial run to get used to the game. I spent the majority of my time clearing the first level. I found the game pretty challenging right from the start. The first stage is decently long and there was a lot of dying and restarting while I was getting used to the game. I died at the boss a couple of times and had to start all over. I think the game gets easier during Levels 2 and 3 before ramping up in Level 4 and beyond, but I believe that has more to do with getting acclimated to the controls than to the levels themselves. It was in Level 4 where I drew the line and stopped playing for the night.

I just now noticed that poor guy locked up in the background.

I just now noticed that poor guy locked up in the background.

I wasn’t able to play any NES for three nights in between my attempts. I almost didn’t play the night of my winning run either. I went to bed really early and got up in the middle of the night to do some stuff around the house. After I was done I figured what the heck, I’ll play for an hour and see what happens. I blasted through the early game without much trouble and then I decided to just go for it. The last level stumped me for awhile. That one is the maze level I mentioned earlier. I thought I had a handle on it but after awhile I realized I wasn’t actually getting anywhere. There’s a trick to the level that took me awhile to figure out and I’m a bit surprised I figured it out without any help. Even with that knowledge I still had to replay the level a few times to get through it, but that was my last real hurdle with Astyanax and I beat it soon after. I didn’t beat it in a single credit but I only had to continue twice, so that’s pretty good for my second try. The ending to the game is exceptionally cheesy too. I won’t spoil that one here! That one hour of playing turned into almost two hours but I have no regrets!

Astyanax seems to have a reputation for being a very challenging game but I found it to be right about average difficulty. The hard part is learning how to land your attacks, but the very useful spells and unlimited continues really evens things out overall. If I can clear it for the first time in a couple of days, then I think average difficulty is a pretty fair assessment. The music in the game is pretty good too. I don’t think I played it quite enough for the music to lodge itself in my brain, although I have heard the theme in the first level a few times before and I like that one.

Astyanax is a pretty good game to have on the cheap. It has nice colorful graphics and lot of large, detailed sprite work, as well as some nice music to go with it. The game plays fine too. It’s a nice little romp. I don’t think everyone will like it but at least it won’t be much of a loss in that case. I mean, I’d rather play Ninja Gaiden when choosing a game in this style, but I think most people would agree with that.

Astyanax Ending Screen

#18 – Astyanax