Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

More like the Temple of Pain, Suffering, and Doom.

The top title text is usually cut off on old TVs

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 7/5/18 – 7/12/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Longplay

I’m here to talk about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on NES, but what I really want to talk about is La-Mulana. I’ve long thought the game La-Mulana is secretly the best Indiana Jones game, or at least the best interpretation of that concept. In La-Mulana, you play as the archaeologist Lemeza as you seek to follow your father’s footsteps in exploring and discovering the secrets of the ruins of La-Mulana. It’s a Metroidvania game with a huge emphasis on solving complex, intricate puzzles spelled out through cryptic textual monuments. You really need a pencil and notebook as you gather clues and piece them together throughout the journey, while also collecting various artifacts, battling huge bosses, and avoiding constant death traps. This is not a game for everyone, but I fell hard for it and it is one of my favorite games, both the original freeware version styled like an MSX game, and the newer remake available on Steam and elsewhere. Actual Indiana Jones games seem to take a safer stance in terms of gameplay. There are several Indiana Jones games on the NES that are standard platformers. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, on the other hand, is less of a platformer and a lot closer to my La-Mulana-like ideal than I originally thought.

Indiana Jones is a well-loved film franchise. There have been four major films to date: Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Temple of Doom in 1984, The Last Crusade in 1989, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. A fifth movie is slated for production beginning in early 2019 with a tentative release date in 2021. A TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, ran from 1992-1993, and that series was followed by four made-for-TV movies between 1994 and 1996. There have been plenty of books, comics, video games, toys, and attractions revolving around Indiana Jones.

There are two video games based on Temple of Doom. The first was a 1985 arcade game that was later ported to various home computers. The NES game, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was released in 1988. It was developed by Atari Games and published by Tengen. In December 1988, Temple of Doom was licensed by Mindscape, so that’s the version I played for the project. Both the unlicensed Tengen version and the licensed Mindscape version are identical games. This version was also ported to a few home computers.

Whip it, whip it good!

I have seen all of the Indiana Jones movies, but it’s been a few years and I don’t remember much of anything about Temple of Doom. From what I’ve read, the story and gameplay both follow the movie. You play as Indiana Jones who, along with his companions Willie and Short Round, reach the village of Mayapore. The Sankara Stones have been stolen and the children of the village have been captured by evil people from the Pankot Palace, led by the high priest Mola Ram and his Thuggee guards. The children have been forced to mine for the missing Sankara Stones, so Indy sweeps in to save the children and recover the stones. The game consists of twelve levels, or waves, that you need to beat to complete the game.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an action game from what I’ll call a near top-down perspective. You use the D-pad to move in all directions. Indy is armed with his trusty whip that you wield with the A button. You can whip in all eight directions by holding the direction and pressing A. The B button is for jumping. A for jumping was a standard convention by now, but nope, it’s B. If you just press B, you will jump downward. If you want to jump in a different direction, hold the D-pad in that direction and then press B. The Start button pauses the game and brings up a status screen. Use the Select button to switch weapons. You hold Select and press either Up, Down, Left, or Right to switch between the four weapons in the game.

You will spend a lot of time in this game saving children. They appear within holes along the cave walls. Simple walk or jump up to them to save them. You will earn some points and they often will leave weapons behind that you collect. Usually, they drop either a gun or a sword. These are limited use weapons that have secondary functions. In the first room of Wave 1, you can use the sword right away. There are small tunnels boarded off by wooden planks. If you slash them with the sword, they will reveal TNT to collect. These are your base weapons in the game that you switch between with Select. Left is for the gun, Right for the sword, Up for TNT, and Down to go back to your whip.

I’m coming to save you! (For equipment and points)

There is limited information on-screen during play. There is a countdown timer at the top of the screen that counts down from 99. The timer speed varies depending on the level. If it goes down to 0, Mola Ram appears, which causes you to lose a life and you have to start the wave over. Below the timer is an icon for the current weapon equipped if it’s something other than the whip. When you switch weapons, you briefly see the ammo count next to Indy. The Status screen when pausing the game gives you a lot more information. You are shown your current score and lives remaining. Below that are all your weapons and ammo accumulated. You also see any special items you’ve collected. Next are the number of children remaining in the wave and how many map pieces are remaining in the game.

There are other items to collect from the children. Some children have map pieces that you hold onto until a later event in the game. An arrow may be left behind. You can pick this up for points, but it’s main purpose is to point the way toward a warp room. Small jewels restore your level timer. Hats are extra lives, and they play a familiar tune when you earn a new life. The key opens the locked door to the next wave.

Most waves in the game follow a similar pattern. Each wave has two rooms. One is a cave room, and the other is a mine cart room. You can switch freely between the two rooms within a wave. The cave rooms have open doors that lead to the mine cart room, and the mine cart tracks may end in tunnels that lead back to the cave room. Each room has a locked door leading to the next wave. To open the locked door, you first obtain the key from the opposite room. The key in the cave room opens the locked door in the mine cart room, and vice versa. Each room has its own key so it is up to you how you want to approach clearing each wave.

Come along for a ride.

The movement mechanics allow for some complex scenarios that the game takes full advantage of. The rooms start getting really large within just a few waves. They also loop around in all directions, which makes them seem even bigger than they really are. Sticking to the main paths will not get you very far, especially in the mine cart rooms. You are going to have to leap from ledge to ledge to explore every nook and cranny of the rooms. Jump while holding Up to jump on the same ledge you are standing on. Otherwise, you fall through all solid objects until you reach a walkable area. The mine cart rooms have a bunch of disconnected conveyor belts so you need to jump to get around those for sure. You also must contend with lava rivers all over these rooms too. Falling onto a lava tile is instant death, so you have to be smart and not just jump all willy-nilly through the rooms.

The mine carts add some additional movement options within those rooms. First, you must jump onto the mine cart to climb in. Then you get to ride around! Carts move from left to right and you can slow them down by pressing Left and speed them up by holding Right. Press Up to lean the cart to the left and Down to lean the cart to the right. Sometimes lava or something is obstructing part of the path and you can lean one way to get through. Be careful as other mine carts appear periodically and they can get in your way, causing you to crash and die if you collide. Tracks sometimes merge which also facilitates collisions. Getting the mine carts to appear in the first place can also be a hassle. Usually you need to scroll the screen horizontally to get one to appear from the left side. In later waves, enemies are in the carts and you need to whip them or defeat them some other way before entering.

The enemies in this game as a huge nuisance. They don’t typically kill you, rather they stun you. This pushes you somewhat and often forces you to fall to the ledge below. Those falls can drop you to your death or leave you vulnerable in other ways. The most common enemy is the Thuggee guard. You can kill them with other weapons or stun them with the whip. You can knock them into the lava for an easy kill. Once a guard is whipped, he becomes an attacker and will kill you outright with a hit. There are bats, rats, snakes, and spiders that move erratically and stun you. Retractable spikes and lava pools kill you. Some guards drop boulders in the mine cart rooms that kill you if they drop on you, but the rocks also provide the benefit of temporarily stopping the movement of conveyor belts.

Whipping guards into lava seems excessive.

Indy has his set of weapons to help out. Furthermore, all of them have secondary uses for moving around the levels. The whip is your primary weapon for stunning guards and killing minor enemies. You will find hooks on the walls that you can latch onto with your whip to swing over gaps. The gun does not actually fire bullets, but instead does instant damage to the first object within its line of sight. There are skulls on the wall that you can shoot with the gun to reveal hooks for swinging with your whip. Swords kill guards and enemies, while they are also used to open up blocked caves containing TNT. The TNT can be thrown in eight directions and leaves a blast that kills enemies. This explosion removes spikes and certain lava tiles that obstruct walkable paths. I found myself switching weapons all the time for each need as it appears.

Another use of the TNT is to reveal hidden rooms. In waves 1, 4, and 6, some children will hold arrows that point in the direction of a hidden room. When you think you’ve found the spot, bomb it to hopefully reveal the door. This takes you to a warp room, which is its own unique stage. Pass through any door in the warp room to advance to a future wave. Doors farther out in the warp room advance you further along in the game. As a bonus, you earn all the map pieces in a wave where you don’t rescue any children, including the waves you skip via warp. Waves without a warp room also have hidden doors revealing either a large cache of normal items or a special item.

The first eight waves all follow the two-room structure and get difficult fast. Wave 9, however, is where the game takes a turn into a devious direction. This wave contains only one room called the Chamber of Kali. Your goal is to reach the Statue of Kali and the three Sankara Stones at the top of the room. You have to forge a path across the lava river to get there. There are several locations where lava monsters appear randomly out of the lava. Hitting a monster with either the gun or TNT turns the monster to permanent stone and you can walk across. The idea is to find the area with the most lava monster activity so that eventually you will clear a path across. You are at the mercy of randomness as you wait for the monsters to line up properly. Once you get to the other side, retrieve the stones and then locate the exit door to Wave 10.

Building your own lava bridge is excruciating.

This is where the map pieces you have been collecting come into play. Before starting Wave 10, you are presented with a crude map of one of the rooms in the wave. There are 25 pieces of the map in all so you may see a partial map excluding sections at random representing map pieces you did not collect. The map shows skulls, doors, children, and an X indicating the exit door for the wave. This is the only time you see the map, so commit what you need to memory or make notes before proceeding.

Wave 10 consists of six large rooms with several doors connected to other rooms. Your task is to use the map to determine which room contains the exit and where the exit is positioned within the room. The exit door itself is hidden and must be revealed by TNT. Each room has four possible locations for the exit door, so there are 24 possible exits. When you find the exit door, you will not be allowed to exit the wave unless you are holding the three Sankara Stones. Unfortunately, if you die in Wave 10, you drop all the stones you are holding. Each room has three large skulls in it and these are where the stones are placed should you drop them. It would really behoove you to get all three stones back in your possession before moving to a different room. God help you if you drop stones in two or even three different rooms at once. All the while, you have to deal with lava pits, lava monsters, conveyor belts, swarming enemies, and all that good stuff. Without a doubt, this is one of the nastiest challenges I’ve experienced in this project to date.

If somehow you survive Wave 10, there are still two more waves to finish. These are more straightforward challenges, but you still need to hold all three stones to exit the wave and you must collect them from skulls if you die in the wave. These scenes are meant to follow the movie as you destroy the rope bridge and keep Mola Ram from escaping. The good thing is that you have unlimited continues throughout your entire journey. The bad thing is that once you get past Wave 9, you go back to Wave 9 when you continue. Still, it’s better than starting from scratch.

This just gets ridiculous.

This was my first time playing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I do remember that this game seemed awfully challenging when I tested out my carts, and I have heard that this is one of the most difficult games on the NES. This is an inexpensive game, but it’s not one I see a whole lot, either in licensed or unlicensed form. I think I owned the Tengen unlicensed version before I owned the licensed Mindscape version. Both versions cart only are worth around $8-$10.

I had what I consider an unusual path to completing this game. I struggled the first couple of times I tried. Wave 1 is really small, but after that, the rooms seem to increase in size drastically up through either Wave 5 or 6. There are several doors connecting each room together and I couldn’t keep track of where I was. I had a couple attempts where I gave up around the middle of the game, but it felt like I was on the brink of getting the hang of this game. One morning I got up early and tried again, and I finally reached Wave 9 without warping before I had to stop. I was able to leave the NES on all day and chipped away at attempting the end of the game, and then before bed I was able to beat the game. I didn’t expect to finish it, so I wasn’t recording, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of playing through the entire game again. So it goes. I was able to block out a few hours during the evening on another night to set up the recording and play through the whole game again. Sadly, this game is a little buggy. It crashed on me somewhere around Wave 7. I was able to jump straight to Wave 9 with the continue code but all my item counts were screwed up. I started over and then it crashed on me again in Wave 10. This time I was able to continue from Wave 9 with everything normal. I ended up going to bed and came back early in the morning before work to finish the game on video. I was running low on time but I managed to beat the game again with all the proper documentation.

There are a couple of optional special items that make this journey a lot easier. These are called out in the manual directly. There is a hidden door in Wave 7 that hides the special key, and another hidden door in Wave 8 that hides a secret idol. Both these items have their locations randomized at the start of their respective waves. The special key unlocks any locked door in the game but you can only use it once. There is a locked door in Wave 9 that can only be opened with the special key. It takes you to an island partway across the lava river in that wave, saving you a lot of time. The secret idol is much more useful. If you have it, the secret idol will appear within Wave 10 on top of the hidden door to Wave 11. It takes much of the guesswork out of where the exit is hidden. The secret idol item is permanent too. In my opinion, the secret idol might as well be mandatory to finish the game. The map, even a full map, is far too sparse and lacks enough detail to be useful. With enough plays, I suppose you could learn how to connect the map data to the location you need to search, but believe me, I’d rather not. If I have to find something hidden, I’d rather bomb around the two rooms of Wave 8 than the six rooms of Wave 10, especially since I can keep continuing on Wave 8 for as long as I need to.

Identifying the hidden exit is a huge relief.

Lastly, I want to discuss the difficulty rating. A fellow who goes by Electric Frankfurter helped compile a list of the Top 30 most difficult NES games. My two 10/10’s so far, Ikari Warriors and Q*bert, are both featured on the list, and so is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Make no mistake, this game is hard, ridiculously hard, with what is asked of you to complete the final stretch of the game along with unlimited enemies that are all over you all the time. It falls short of 10/10 for me because of the infinite continues. I have many of the 10/10 games already in mind, and I’m really going to have to take a deep look at the ones that have infinite continues to see if they are truly deserving of the hardest of the hard. The fact is that if you can reach Wave 9 with a good number of items (and hopefully the secret idol), you can just keep hammering away with the exact same item loadout until you beat it. Total play time is another factor I consider. I beat the game twice within a week and I don’t think I spent any more than 10 hours total. That’s not quite 10/10 for me either. I don’t do fractional scores, but I would say the game is more challenging than most of its peers in the 9/10 area.

I am more impressed with the idea of this game than how it actually turned out. There are some clever concepts here with collecting pieces of a map, locating secret items, and using multiple weapons that double as tools. Randomization adds some replay value to the mix. The rest of the game is kind of a mess. The rooms are huge, complex, and tough to successfully navigate under constant enemy threat. Whip swinging has poor hit detection, both on hooking with the whip and landing on the other side of the swing. The jump mechanics are confusing and many jumps to below ledges don’t make physical sense. Locating hidden doors are all trial and error that require limited resources to reveal. The controls for switching weapons don’t always trigger correctly, which always happens when I am in a rush. The graphics are okay and the music is poor, aside from the Indiana Jones theme. There is bad programming that can occasionally lead to crashes. The game is playable, but for the most part it is more frustrating than fun. If you are looking for a new challenge, this game certainly has it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go play some La-Mulana.

#93 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


#75 – Laser Invasion

Ward off the invasion in several different ways!

It’s not every day you see a white title screen on NES.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/24/18 – 2/28/18
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Laser Invasion Longplay

I been plugging away at Take On The NES Library for over two years now, and I only have a little over 10% of the library completed. That is still a significant number of games with a wide variety of titles since I insist of having the bulk of these games chosen randomly. Laser Invasion at its core is a multi-genre game, but it just so happens that I’ve already beaten and written about enough games to make some comparisons and approximate what you get out of this game. Laser Invasion is part Top Gun, part Operation Wolf, and part Golgo 13. It’s even one of the few titles to support the Zapper. Let’s jump in and see what this game is all about.

The Famicom game Gun Sight was released in Japan in March 1991. The NES version was localized to Laser Invasion and was released in June 1991 in North America. It was developed and published by Konami in both regions. Laser Invasion was not released in PAL territories and is an exclusive game to the NES and Famicom. The name change for the NES version was likely done to tie this game to Konami’s Laserscope peripheral that launched at the same time.

I had no idea before starting this game that Laser Invasion is the only NES game to fully support the Laserscope peripheral. The Laserscope is a headset controller that functions like the NES Zapper. You start by plugging the Laserscope into the second controller port, and then you plug the attached audio cable into the audio port on the NES itself. The headset has speakers so that you can hear the game audio while wearing it, and the audio cable also powers the Laserscope so you don’t need batteries. It also comes equipped with a microphone. While playing a game, you use the attached sight to line up a target and then yell “Fire!” into the microphone to shoot. Basically, this is a set of headphones with a built-in voice-activated Zapper. It sounds neat, but in practice it doesn’t work too well. The Laserscope fires whenever the microphone picks up any sound so it can misfire often. I bet it has the speaker built in so that the game audio through the TV doesn’t accidentally trigger a misfire. This is just hearsay; I don’t own a Laserscope. Thankfully it is not required to play this game.

See the mission you are forced to accept.

Laser Invasion is a multiple-genre shooter game. The Sheik Toxic Moron (yes, that’s that bad guy’s name taken straight from the manual) is set on world domination with his all-powerful weapon the TechnoScorch Missile. It is up to you, of course, to infiltrate the Sand Storm Command Center and stop these events from happening. To do this, you must take to the skies in air combat as well as engage in gun fights on the ground and search enemy bases to advance your mission. Complete all four missions to beat Laser Invasion.

On the title screen, you can start the game right away or set some options. Press Select to choose and then press Start. Within the option menu, you can turn the music off and on. You can either enable or disable reverse controls for your aircraft. You can also choose the input method. Control Pad is for using the controller only, LaserScope is for using both the LaserScope and controller, and Zapper is for the Zapper and controller. You can also choose if you want to have three, four, or five lives. There is also an option for LaserScope practice. I never tried this, but I think it is a calibration screen for positioning your LaserScope properly. Use the D-pad to toggle all these options to your liking, then press Start to go back to the title screen.

Laser Invasion has three different genres of gameplay, and since all of them are included in the first mission alone, I’ll step you through what that first mission is like. All missions begin with a cutscene providing you with the mission briefing. Then you will go flying in your helijet aircraft, but first you need to choose which missiles you want and which secondary item you want. For missiles, you can choose from either 40 weaker missiles, 20 medium missiles, or 10 strong missiles. The stronger missiles have wider targeting ranges than the weaker ones. For secondary weapons, you can choose one tank of extra fuel, five ground bombs for destroying ground targets, or ten chaff dispenses to temporarily protect you from enemy homing missiles. After everything is set, it’s time for takeoff.

The Top Gun vibe is strong here.

Aerial combat in the helijet is just like it is in Top Gun. This mode is always controller only. Use the D-pad to steer the helijet. Up or Down may be reversed if you chose that option. The B button fires your weapons. Your default is a vulcan cannon with unlimited, although weak, firepower. Hold down B to fire. If you get an enemy in your sights, there will be an arrow pointing at it. Then you can double tap the B button to launch one of your guided missiles at the enemy. You may press Select to toggle between your missiles and your secondary item, and you use your secondary item by also double tapping B. The A button reduces your speed. The default is automatic full speed ahead and the A button acts like your brakes.

The top half of this screen contains all the action and the lower half is your control panel with lots of useful information. On the left is your fuel meter. In the middle there are two kinds of radar. The left one is wide radar that covers the entire playfield and shows points of interest as well as the position and orientation of your helijet. The right radar is local radar which shows where enemies are around you, including from behind and the sides. Below the radar is a long bar that indicates the health of your helijet. The right side shows your missiles, secondary items, ammo for each, and your current flying speed.

As you fly, you are approached by enemy aircraft that you can take out with your weapons. Many enemies fire guided missiles that you need to either dodge or blow up with your own shots. There are also stationary objects that you just dodge. You can also steer left or right and fly in any direction. Each flying area is its own contained open world and you can fly anywhere within the radar screen. On the wide radar, you will see a white circle in the upper left of the first mission. These mark enemy bases and you want to visit them to complete your mission. There is a plus mark around the middle of the map and this is your allied heliport, where you can refill your fuel and weapons if you want.

Hope you like missiles in your boss fights!

In the first mission, when you approach the enemy base you are greeted with an enemy helicopter. This is one of several challenging boss battles. The parts you can shoot are highlighted by the targeting arrow, so you can either use missiles or your cannon on those spots while also avoiding or shooting the enemy’s missiles. Destroy the enemy helicopter to move on to the next part. In this case, you go right back to flying. You want to center yourself over the enemy base and land there. If you fly over a place where you can land, and all enemies are out of the way, you will approach the heliport. Here you want to slam on the brakes and stop above the heliport to switch to the landing sequence. The view switches to looking down over the helipad. Use the D-pad to center yourself and press and hold A to ascend if you need it. You want to land close to the large plus in the center of the helipad, but cross winds don’t always make that easy. Just take your time. It doesn’t matter how fast you are falling because you can’t crash. If you make a poor landing, you get sent back to the skies and you have to try docking with the heliport again. When you land properly, you exit the helijet and move on to the next phase.

Now that you’ve landed, you hop out of the cockpit and get your gun ready. This next playstyle puts you in first person view and you shoot your way on foot to the enemy base. This part of the game is very similar to Operation Wolf. The playfield scrolls slowly to the right and as enemies pop up you shoot them with the controller you chose on the options screen. If you are playing with a controller only, you control a crosshair and can fire with the B button. With either the LaserScope or the Zapper, just aim and shoot. You will see your health meter, ammo count, and any items from the bases on the lower part of the screen. Aside from the different kinds of enemies, there are a few items to help. Crates appear periodically and you can shoot them to reveal either a heart or more ammo. Then shoot the icon to collect it. Hearts refill your entire health meter, and the ammo puts you back at the max of 99 shots. I found out that ammo drops always appear when you have 15 bullets or fewer. You are never in danger of running out of bullets unless you somehow skip the refill. There are also red barrels that destroy all enemies when shot. At the end of this section, you reach the enemy base. The door opens and you automatically enter.

Just blast away!

The enemy base is where the third gameplay style takes place. This is what the manual refers to as the 3-D Confusion Maze. If you remember the mazes from Golgo 13, this is what I’d consider an improved version of them. Press Up on the D-pad to take a step forward, or press Left or Right to turn in that direction. Press A to open doors right in front of you. The top half of the screen shows the corridors in the base from a first-person perspective. The lower left of the screen contains a mini map of the entire base. Each base segment is uncovered on the map as you step from screen to screen. That’s an incredibly helpful feature. The lower right of the screen displays your health, ammo count, items collected, and any messages you might come across.

Occasionally the music changes when you reach certain rooms, which is the trigger for an enemy encounter. Battles are gunfights also using the LaserScope, Zapper, or standard controller, just like in the Operation Wolf style segments. The Zapper is quite cumbersome to use since you have to drop the controller and pick up the gun quickly to transition from exploration to gunfight. Like in the other sections, there are items found in the maze to help you. Some rooms have a crate in them and all you have to do it move next to it to grab the item. You can find more ammo for your gun or rations to restore your health. There are also special quest items such as keys. One difference with maze combat is that you can get in situations where you run out of ammo. If that happens, mash the A button to retreat to the room you came from. Enemy encounters always appear in the same places and the enemies are gone when you clear them out. There is enough ammo within the base to get you through. I never got stuck in a spot where I couldn’t locate extra ammo to proceed.

At one juncture of the maze in the first mission, a time bomb is set and you have to hurry out of the maze. You can’t go back the way you came in, so you have to find a new way. Once you do, you go back into the helijet and take off as the base explodes beneath you. This marks the end of the first mission. But in other missions, sometimes this puts you back in the sky because there are other mission objectives to finish. This means the pacing of the game is a bit inconsistent. The first mission seems lengthy enough, but it is short compared to some of the later missions.

The minimap makes these sections much more enjoyable.

Depending on your option setting, you have either three, four, or five lives to work with in Laser Invasion. If you run out of lives, you can continue up to five times. Where you restart largely depends on where you last died. Continuing within a base is the worst from what I recall since it sends you all the way back to the helijet before even approaching the base. Then it takes several minutes to get back to where you were. You can gain extra lives to help a bit, but these are tough to earn. Laser Invasion has a scoring system and points appear on screen before each mission or after you take a death. Every 100,000 points earns you an extra life, but it takes so long to score that high that you may never get one. I think the highest I scored was 150,000 points.

This was my first time playing Laser Invasion. This is a game I originally took off my main list and pulled back in here. I don’t like flight games and my first impression was that was all Laser Invasion had to offer. I did decide to leave Top Gun in my main list for some reason, and I figured if I could beat that then I could figure out Laser Invasion. I didn’t realize it was also a Zapper game plus had all these other play modes, so consider me pleasantly surprised. It’s not a common game, but it’s not super expensive, selling for around $10 to $15 for a loose cart.

I beat Laser Invasion in only five days. That surprised me. I decided early on that I would play this with the Zapper since I don’t own a LaserScope. There are only 16 licensed NES games that are compatible with the Zapper and it feels wrong to not use it. I did a few attempts with the controller just for practice. I think the controller by itself is the easiest way to play Laser Invasion. Zapper play was a bit more challenging, and I bet the LaserScope works well since you don’t have to keep switching between controller and Zapper on the fly. However, the parts with the Zapper were much easier for me than the flying. The same homing missiles that bogged me down in Top Gun are here again, but they are not as bad this time because they are larger in size and thus easier to shoot down. The boss battles and areas leading up to them ate up the most lives during the learning phase of the game.

I’m happy that landing isn’t that stressful.

Once I got some practice near the end of the game, I fully switched over to Zapper control and the three default lives. I was very close to beating the game on my penultimate attempt, reaching the final boss for the first time on my last life and then immediately dying. In my longplay video, I used two continues to beat the game. I was used to using up all five, so this was a good run. This was my first time recording footage of a Zapper game off my CRT and I think it turned out well.

I have a few tips to share for Laser Invasion. There are three options for the secondary item and the one you want is the extra fuel. The ground bombs were completely useless to me. The chaff can be helpful since it takes homing missiles out of play when you use it, but for the rest of the game you learn to deal with them anyway. The extra fuel is the most important because a couple sections in the game are so long they require the extra fuel to make it all the way through without dying. This is an awful design decision that you normally have to learn the hard way. Outside of those sections, the extra fuel is a good safeguard if you are having trouble lining up on the map to land at a base and need some extra time. I liked using the twenty medium missiles. They are powerful enough to be useful against bosses and there are enough of them that you can get away with wasting a few. To stop above the heliport, all you have to do is hold down A as soon as you begin making the approach. This should stop you early enough so that you can do a release and hold pattern with the A button to inch your way into position. Those tips should get you started with the flying, and the rest of the game falls into place from there.

Laser Invasion is a game that surprised me and I’m glad I played it. It’s a Konami game and they almost always make quality games, including this one. The graphics are excellent and so is the music. The game controls well with the controller, and performs well enough with the Zapper. I found the shooting hitboxes pretty generous to help keep up with the action. It’s a tough task to cover multiple play styles. I think the quality is there, but the pacing and difficulty are unbalanced. The Zapper stages are easy compared to the rest, and yet they drag on much longer than I would like. You can traverse mazes quickly until you get blocked by a lengthy shooting match. The flying is so much more difficult than the rest of the game with things like one-hit kills and boss fights. Trying to trigger a heliport can also be frustrating when enemies just don’t get out of the way. These are valid complaints that hamper the overall experience, but Laser Invasion is still a pretty neat game.

#75 – Laser Invasion

Top Gun Box Cover

#19 – Top Gun

I feel the need … the need for speeding this game back to my shelf!

It's nice to have a white title screen for once!

It’s nice to have a white title screen for once!

To Beat: Finish all 4 missions to get the ending
To Complete: Beat the 2nd loop
My Goal: Beat the game
What I Did: Beat the game and a small part of the 2nd loop
Played: 3/5/16 – 3/16/16
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10

Please forgive me if I screwed up this blog post already with that initial reference. I haven’t actually seen the movie. Now before you leave in disgust, at least stick around to hear about the NES game. But first, and bear with me, let’s discuss the movie.

Top Gun was released in theaters in May 1986. The movie tells the story of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a US Naval Aviator attending the Top Gun school in order to follow in the footsteps of his father who was killed. Maverick is a reckless and aggressive pilot and his techniques eventually lead to the death of his wingman during a training exercise. Despite his struggles with the incident he eventually graduates only to be thrust into an emergency situation right away. Maverick and the team are able to overcome the conflict and make a triumphant return in the end. I hope I summarized that well enough. The movie had mixed reviews by critics, but it was a box office smash. It was the highest grossing film of 1986 with over $350 million earned worldwide. It would spawn several video games including two on the NES. There is also a movie sequel in the works as of this writing.

Top Gun on NES was developed and published by Konami. It was released in the US in November 1987, in Japan in December 1987, and in Europe in November of 1988. It is the first of several flight simulation games on the NES. In Top Gun, you play as Maverick on a top secret assignment spread out over four in-game missions. The game plays from the cockpit view of an F-14. There is a lot of information available here such as your altitude, speed, missile count, missile type, radar, damage indicator, fuel gauge, and plane orientation as shown from behind. Then in the windshield there is a targeting reticule that shows where your cannons shoot as well as the targeting area for launching a guided missile. Enemies will fly in from behind or come right at you and you can use the unlimited shots of your cannon by pressing A to take them out, or you can use homing missiles with the B button. When an enemy is within your targeting area, hit B once to lock on and hit it again to launch a missile.

Line up your shot and take them down!

Line up your shot and take them down!

At the start of each mission you get to choose from one of three different missile types: 40 T-11 Hound missiles, 20 T-22 Wolf missiles, and 10 T-33 Tiger missiles. It’s the typical quantity for damage tradeoff as the T-11’s are weak, T-22’s are average, and T-33’s are strong. You can choose the missiles you deem suitable for the mission at hand.

Now there is more to it than just taking down enemy fighters. At the end of each mission, you must land your plane on the aircraft carrier. The game switches to landing mode and you can control your speed as well as the angle of your aircraft. The radar screen shows the current orientation of your plane as well as giving you recommendations such as “Speed Up!” or “Left! Left!” The idea is to get your plane as close to 200 altitude and 288 speed as you can when you reach the carrier. The game provides a moderate range of acceptable values that will allow you to land successfully so you don’t need to be exact. Too far off from those measurements will cause a crash that is shown in the landing cutscene and it will cost you a life, but if you are successful you get to watch yourself make a graceful landing.

The second, third, and final missions are long enough that you won’t be able to make it all the way through on a full tank of fuel, so in the middle of the mission you’ll hear an alarm indicating low fuel. When that happens, you press Start to call in a refueling tanker. When everything is clear, your jet automatically flies upward, the radar zooms in, and you see the tanker come into view dropping its refueling boom in front of you. There is an ‘X’ on the hood of your jet as shown on the radar screen and you must align your fighter properly to latch on and refuel your plane. This reloads all of your missiles too. This plays out very similar to the landing sequence although this time there’s no numerical range to aim for. It’s more visual and it requires more of a feel for it, but it is similar to getting a feel for landing. If you are unable to refuel the game will resume, however with not enough fuel to survive you will soon crash and lose a life. In a way it’s worse to miss refueling because you have to wait out the inevitable death.

Everybody, get down!

Everybody, get down!

The missions all play out typically the same way. You are approached by a number of enemy formations from the air, sea, or land. You can take them out with your weapons or you can dodge their attacks and keep moving forward. Many enemies are passive and are just there for points. Other fighters will attack with cannons that deal damage to your aircraft and some other fighters launch guided missiles of their own. They seek out your plane and they are fatal. One hit and you are a goner no matter how much damage your jet has suffered. You can maneuver your way around them or if you are really bold you can shoot them down with your cannon. It is practically essential to learn how to destroy enemy missiles to survive this game all the way to the end.

The first mission is a training mission that takes place above the clouds. No refueling is necessary and there are no ground targets so it is a good introduction. The second mission takes place over the ocean so there are boats and battleships to deal with below. The third mission is similar except it is over the desert and there are enemy jeeps and tanks to fight on the ground. The air attack gets more difficult here as well. The fourth mission is a nighttime mission and the difficulty is cranked up to the max. Expect a lot of evasive maneuvers and guided missiles.

Occasionally during the mission an enemy fighter will lock on to you from behind. When this occurs an alarm sounds and you see the enemy’s location in your radar screen. You must shake them off of you by moving from side to side. It takes a more rhythmic rocking back and forth to get them off. At the same time you can still be attacked from ahead so it can get a little frantic sometimes. If you can’t get them off they will shoot you down so getting rid of the rear enemy is always the priority.

Shake it off, shake it off!

Shake it off, shake it off!

Aside from the first mission, there is a target that you are required to take out as part of the mission. It’s a fancy way of saying there is a boss battle at the end. The target is stationary but it has a health meter that appears on screen and it take a lot of damage before being blown to bits. During the fight you are being attacked constantly by enemy fighters while enemies at the target are firing at you as well. Take out the target and your mission is successful after you land the plane of course.

This was my first time playing Top Gun. I don’t care much for flight simulators so it’s not a game that I would normally play. In fact I know I moved several games like this all the way to the bottom of my list for the blog. I only kept it on the normal part of my list since it is developed by Konami and they typically make great games.

Top Gun is a cheap, common game but it took me a really long time to acquire a copy for my collection. If memory serves I had over 500 unique NES carts before I owned Top Gun. I have owned the sequel Top Gun: The Second Mission since childhood and I had multiple copies of that game before I owned the original. It’s just one of those strange, loopy coincidences. Of course, as soon as I finally got one then they started pouring in from all the eBay lots I was purchasing at that time. I was up to six copies before I sold them all off.

You need this fuel and they will leave you behind if you mess up.

You need this fuel and they will leave you behind if you mess up.

Top Gun is a really hard game. My biggest struggle with the game was dealing with enemy guided missiles. At first, I was always getting hit by them while banking away as far as I could away from it. I eventually learned that I could dodge them by flying away from them either left or right while rocking up and down. It’s harder to hit a more randomly moving target. That strategy failed whenever an enemy straight ahead decided to fire a missile at me. Then I realized I could shoot them down but it took some serious practice to get the hang of it. If you miss then that pretty much spells the end of your fighter and your life. It gets worse. Starting in Mission 2 some enemies fire three guided missiles at once. This frustrated me so much! I did develop a strategy. The set of three missiles always come in the same formation: one high, one low, and one middle-right. I would destroy the top missile, then fly high and left to completely skip the bottom missile and do the up and down wiggle to dodge the right one. If the enemy is just a little bit to the left to start with, then I would have to destroy the top two missiles and dodge the bottom one. The bottom missile was almost never a factor, although one time I managed to destroy all three in a crazy moment of panic.

The real reason this game is so difficult is that you only have three lives to work with for the entire game. There are no extra lives and there are no continues. Not only do you have to contend with so many homing missiles and all the enemy fire, but you also need to learn how to refuel your plane as well as land your jet consistently. Every mistake is magnified. The only saving grace is that the game is relatively short. The missions tend to drone on for quite awhile because the pacing is slow, but the entire game can be beaten in under 30 minutes.

I saw this so many times!

I saw this so many times!

After much frustration and a bunch of attempts I finally managed to beat Top Gun. I wasn’t keeping track of how many tries it took before I won but I am estimating 15-20 attempts. The second mission is a large bump up in difficulty and that is where I cut my teeth on everything the game has to offer. I found the third mission easier than the one before, but the final mission was quite the challenge. The third time I made it to Mission 4 I was completely in the zone and I made it through to the boss with two lives remaining. I lost them both. I was really upset at that loss. By that point I was getting good enough to get to the final mission nearly every run. My real vice in all of this was the second mission. No matter what I did I always lost at least one life there. I said to myself that once I cleared Mission 2 without failure, then that would be my winning run. Wouldn’t you know it, I was right! I no-deathed the game up to Mission 4 only to lose two lives in the first half of the mission. I kept my cool, beat the final boss, and landed the plane without any problems. I’m sure I would have lost my mind if I failed to land the plane at the very end of Top Gun!

Since beating Top Gun I have learned a few additional things about it. The game loops once you beat the game and in my brief experience with it after winning it is indeed harder than the first run. I encountered more guided missiles than the first loop. However, according to the NES Game Endings FAQ there is no different ending upon beating the game again so I am not going to bother with it.

Blowing up enemy fighters feels pretty nice, I have to admit!

Blowing up enemy fighters feels pretty nice, I have to admit!

Another tip is that you can cheese your way through the game by flying up and right the entire time. Doing this will avoid all enemies and missiles so you will only have to deal with the refueling sequences, landing sequences, and the targets at the end of the mission. I didn’t try it so I don’t know for certain. Even if I knew about it before hand, I wouldn’t bother beating the game that way. I suffered through it the right way!

There is another ending of sorts to Top Gun that is quite a bit better and easier to achieve than the actual ending after Mission 4. If you are able to best the high score of 50,000 points, you are awarded the designation of Top Gun indicated by a screen that acts like a certificate of achievement. It’s pretty neat. I’ll include a capture of the screen from my best score during my winning run so you can see what it looks like!

From a technical standpoint, Top Gun is a well made game. It looks nice graphically and it controls and plays well, especially considering that it is one of the earlier NES game made. There is a variety of activities in the game to mix things up a bit. Overall, I don’t really care for it. The difficulty is a big turn off here, and the game eventually get monotonous after playing it over and over again. The first mission amounts to a forced five minute tutorial which is great for just starting out but it doesn’t take long for it to be so dull. This is not really my type of game anyway. Still, I consider beating Top Gun to be quite the achievement. I feel it’s the hardest game I’ve conquered so far. I hope it has prepared me well for playing the sequel whenever it comes up!

#19 - Top Gun

#19 – Top Gun

#19 - Top Gun (High Score Screen)

#19 – Top Gun (High Score Screen)