Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#107 – Isolated Warrior

Taking care of threats from all angles.

Nicely animated title here.

To Beat: Beat all six stages
To Complete: Beat the game without continuing and finish the final special stage
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 11/28/18 – 12/7/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Isolated Warrior Longplay

I will always find it fascinating whenever I play an NES game that has some kind of quality to it that isn’t often seen, and then very soon after I play another game that shares that same quality.  This might be the only time anyone has ever linked Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure with Isolated Warrior, but here we are.  I went from an adventure game with an isometric perspective to a shoot-em-up also in that same view.  The difference is I enjoyed playing Isolated Warrior much more.

Isolated Warrior was released in February 1991 in both Japan and North America.  The Japanese title is Max Warrior: Wakusei Kaigenrei.  This game also had a PAL release in 1991.  Isolated Warrior was developed by KID and published by Vap in all territories.  NTVIC is also credited as a co-publisher on the NES title.  I was surprised to learn that KID developed several NES games, including the already completed Burai Fighter.  That tells me that they know how to develop a good shooter.

Isolated Warrior is a shoot-em-up with an isometric perspective.  It follows the story of the fall of the planet Pan which exists outside of our galaxy.  Aliens have taken over the planet and all are advised to evacuate the planet, including the army.  The commander of the army, Max Maverick, refuses to evacuate and goes to take on the alien forces all by himself.  His journey takes him over six stages of shooting action.  If you play well enough, you may unlock the final seventh stage.  Beating that gives you the proper ending to this game.

Just a casual stroll down the street

The controls here are mostly straightforward.  You use the D-pad to move in all directions.  This game includes some light platforming elements and you can press A to jump.  If you hold the A button down, you will perform a somersault in the air.  Press A again while airborne to launch bombs.  The B button fires your normal weapons with unlimited ammo.  Press Select to switch between two different types of firing modes.  You may also press Start to pause the game.

The obvious gimmick here is the isometric viewpoint.  This game is an upward-scrolling vertical shooter that also pans slightly to the right.  Your normal shooting direction is fixed in the direction of the scrolling, which can make it a little tricky to line up with the enemy at first.  You will get used to it rather quickly.

There is a healthy amount of information on the bottom of the screen.  The left side contains your high score in the first row, and your health bar and number of lives remaining in the second row.  The center portion displays which weapon mode you are using, along with the number of weapon pickups collected of that type.  Below that is the current weapon level.  It’s a little confusing but I’ll clear it all up shortly.  The right side contains your current score.  You also see the power level of your bombs and a meter displaying how many bombs you have at your disposal.

At any time during gameplay, you can toggle between the two firing modes by pressing Select.  One is a straight shot and the other is a wide spread shot.  You can upgrade these as you go by collecting L and W icons, which upgrade the standard shot and wide shot respectively.  The game keeps a counter of how many icons you have collected.  You can go from 1 to 12 for each weapon.  You might think there would be twelve power levels for each weapon, but there are only five.  You have to reach a certain number of pickups to level up the weapon.  You can see both the number of pickups collected and the weapon level on screen, but the power level is what really matters.  Each weapon power level gives you an extra shot on-screen to work with.  For instance, at level 3 wide shot you get a three-way spread shot.  In straight shot mode you can fire both straight ahead and backward.

Five-way shot is useful against waves of smaller enemies

You also get five levels of bomb power.  There are B icons that increase your bomb power level directly.   You can power up to level 5.  Levels 1 through 4 give you a single bomb, three-way spread, five-way spread, and eight-way spread respectively.  For the first three bomb levels you can choose the direction you want to toss bombs with the D-pad as you use them.  Level 5 is a more powerful version of the eight-way spread but you can only use it once before being downgraded back to Level 4.  You can hold up to ten bombs, which is quite a lot of firepower if you can keep it at a high level.

There are other powerups.  The S powerup increases your movement speed.  There are also 1ups appearing on occasion.  The remaining powerups look similar enough that it is tough to tell what they are in the heat of the fight.  A long pill-shaped powerup is called The Bullet, which gives you an extra bomb.  A purple sphere is just for bonus points.  Another purple sphere with a wave on either side restores two points of your health bar.  The Barrier is a football-shaped powerup with waves around it and a white center.  This powerup is often carried on-screen by an enemy group near the stage boss and you get to knock it out of their grasp.  The Barrier puts a shield around you that lets you get hit five times without losing health.  After taking four hits, the shield will start blinking to indicate it is almost gone.

Isolated Warrior’s jump mechanic puts a little bit of platforming in this shooter.  There are various traps you will have to avoid by jumping.  There are simple walls that will crush you against the bottom of the screen if you don’t jump in time.  There are hazards on the floors like lava or electricity where you will suffer heavy damage if you set foot there.  Pits are also common and you lose a life if you fall in.  Jumping mostly keeps you from danger because most of the bullets are fired along the ground and you can just leap over them.  I found it normal to spend a lot of time jumping and weaving my landings around bullets.  Sometimes enemies are in the air and you can only defeat them by jumping and shooting precisely.

The purple goop hurts and is everywhere

While most of the game is spent traveling on foot, there are two stages where you get to drive other vehicles.  The second stage features a hovercraft over a river.  You drive upstream much faster than you walk.  The controls are the same and you can still jump and everything, so it’s really just an excuse to make the scrolling faster.  In the fourth stage, you drive a motorcycle up a destroyed highway.  This level feels the fastest of them all.  There is one slight quirk to the motorcycle.  If you press Down before pressing A, instead of jumping you will perform a wheelie.  This lets you pass through bullets that would normally hit you directly.  You can still fall through holes or crash into walls no matter what.

Isolated Warrior has a power down system in place for when you die.  Your current weapon goes all the way back to Level 1 and you also lose a level of bomb power.  Being able to keep your other weapon at its current strength gives you a fighting chance to get back into the game.  If you take a few deaths close together and lose both of your weapons, well, good luck.  Some enemies take enough firepower to defeat that you start stacking them up with the next set of enemies and it becomes too much.  It’s not full-blown Gradius Syndrome, where powering down means a near-impossible road ahead, but resetting and starting over begins to sound like a decent idea.

To combat the powering down, there are a few things that work in your favor.  Having a life bar really helps you plan ahead a little bit so you can stash away the weapon you really want in case you perish.  The game is also somewhat friendly with extra lives.  You earn lives every 300,000 points on top of the pickups.  If you get pretty far in the game on one life, you should have enough lives to at least learn that level so that you’ll be better off the next time.  This game also features passwords after every stage.  These are four-digit passwords that start you at the beginning of the stage with the base equipment.  I found that I was better off playing from the start every time and that the passwords were only useful for practice.

Hello there giant screen-filling boss!

Reaching the end of stage six gives you an ending, but it’s a crummy one.  You are advised to beat all six stages before the game is over to reach a special seventh stage.  I have read that some people think you have to beat all six stages on one life, but you only need to finish them without continuing or using passwords.  The secret stage is challenging and ends in the true final boss fight.  This gets you the good ending.  I am okay with someone getting the bad ending and saying that they beat it.  I think most players would argue that you really need the good ending on this one.  Of course, that’s what I planned to go for anyway.

I played Isolated Warrior a little bit as a Nintendo Age contest game back in 2016.  I stalled out in Stage 4 but didn’t really give it my full effort.  I bought this game for a cool $7 on eBay in August 2014.  It was a good deal for a $12 game at the time, though there is a tear in the back label.  In February 2015, a Nintendo Age thread was created that hyped the game up as hidden gem.  Sure enough, the game price saw a steady climb for the next couple of years, topping out at over $30 for just a loose cart.  The game sells now for around $20-$25.

I ended up with a pretty good run of this game.  I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble learning the game, but I was a little short on time and I needed over a week before I got it all completed.  The run before I recorded was the first time I reached Stage 7, and I just barely beat it.  I had close to ten lives but piddled them away before beating the final boss on my last life.  Even though the game does give you the Stage 7 password, I didn’t need it.  For my longplay video, I beat the game with four deaths.  The first one was during the Stage 6 boss, and then I lost the remaining ones trying to clear Stage 7.  While not an incredible run, it was one I’m quite happy with.

This part is unfair

There’s only one part of the game I dislike, but it is so flawed that it nearly turned me off from this game entirely.  I’m talking about doing wheelies on the motorcycle in Stage 4.  The problem is that it takes away your jump if you happen to be holding Down.  The level design features huge chunks of highway that are broken up by gaps, so you have to jump.  The level also has the fastest scrolling in the game. Instinctively, you would be moving downward often so that you are at the bottom of the screen which gives you the most time to react.  This results in doing a wheelie and you don’t have enough time to let go of Down and jump again before you fall to your doom.  Even worse, the stage boss is played on a looping section of highway with forced jumps, and the boss itself is tiny and slides around a lot.  It is ridiculously easy to fall here given you have to make so many jumps while you wait to align yourself with the boss.  I had to train myself to jump before pressing Down.  The wheelie itself is a useless move anyway since you can dodge normally or jump in a pinch.  This is a real “what were they thinking?” moment in this game.  No wonder I didn’t get past it in 2016.

Level 4 notwithstanding, Isolated Warrior is a really neat shooter that I’m glad I got to play.  The graphics are nice and unique given the isometric perspective.  I dig the enemy and boss designs, and there’s even cutscenes between stages to advance the story.  The soundtrack is energetic and upbeat.  The controls work great.  I like having two base weapons to work with that I can switch between at will.  The game can be hard but I don’t think it’s too challenging if you stay powered up.  Going for the good ending is a solid challenge.  Isolated Warrior has a good number of stages, but the game itself is on the shorter side and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  One small negative is that there is some noticeable slowdown at times.  There’s a lot to like about this game.  I don’t know that the game is so hidden anymore, but I feel good saying that it is still a gem.

#107 – Isolated Warrior


#99 – Sky Kid

Take to the skies in this lengthy shoot-em-up.

It’s called Sky Kid, not SkyKid.

To Beat: Defeat the spaceship to see the ending
To Complete: Complete two loops
What I Did: Reached the halfway point of the second loop
Played: 8/21/18 – 9/7/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Sky Kid Longplay

This project is constantly full of surprises. Most of them are good, and I’d like to think I have hit a nice string of positive surprises. Sky Kid was the kind of surprise that blindsided me a little bit. Here we have a cutesy shoot-em-up game with little airplanes, tanks, and loop-de-loops. It’s just the happiest looking game. Underneath the pretty exterior, however, is something far more devious than I would have imagined. Sure, the missions get more challenging as you go, but Sky Kid just keeps going and going. Just how many missions does this game have? I won’t keep you waiting too long for the answer.

Sky Kid was first released in the arcades in Japan in December 1985. It was developed and published by Namco. It was quickly followed by a sequel, Sky Kid Deluxe, in February 1986, featuring expanded missions, enemies, music, and other features. The original version of the game was ported to the Famicom in August 1986. The NES port came out later in September 1987 and was published by Sunsoft. Both the arcade version and NES versions were released on all versions of the Virtual Console.

Sky Kid is a horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of Baron and the second player is called Max. The names are short for Red Baron and Blue Max. There’s no story here, just fly your plane through the standard missions as they are called out on the screen. Sky Kid features a whopping 26 missions. It may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it’s quite a lot for a game like this. The goal of the game is to destroy a spaceship that appears in the final mission. Do that to get the ending.

Up, up, and away!

The controls are simple. Use the D-pad to fly in all directions. This game is an auto-scroller so when you fly left or right, you are actually just speeding up or slowing down. The A button fires your machine gun. You have unlimited shots and can have three bullets on screen at a time. The B button lets you perform a loop-de-loop move. If you collect a bomb, drop it with the B button. The Start button pauses the game.

All missions share the same structure. You begin a mission on the runway with the goal of bombing the target. Then the game starts scrolling to the left, instead of to the right like most horizontal shooters. You have to steer upward right away so you don’t crash into the scenery ahead. When you approach the end of the mission, you will see a row of three girls wearing red. Soon after that is the runway with text on the screen telling you to Land Here. Simply touch the runway to land and end the mission, no matter if you actually bombed the target or not. If you skip the runway you will be taken over open water and will automatically crash into the sea. I guess this is the way the game tells you that you have no more fuel. Crashing past the runway does complete the mission, at least.

A game mechanic clear from the start is that you can fire your machine guns in three directions. Shots will fire only in the direction you are facing. Fly up and your plane will angle upward, allowing you to shoot diagonally. Same thing goes for flying down. Hold steady to shoot forward. To take advantage of this style of aiming, the game has both air enemies and ground targets for you to blow up.

You can aim upward or downward toward pesky enemies.

The loop-de-loop is a handy maneuver that you can perform at any time. Simply press B while holding still to fly quickly in a clockwise arc. This moves you backward to the right a fair distance and you can use the move while being tailed to get behind the enemy. You can also perform an upward loop by pressing B while flying up, and a downward loop while flying down. The upward loop pushes you both up and to the right a little bit, while the downward loop pushes you down and slightly forward. Beware that some enemy aircraft can also perform loops. While in the loop, you are invincible to both enemy fire and enemy planes, so this is both an evasive move and a defensive move. You can’t just spam the loop-de-loop the whole time because there is a brief delay between finishing one loop and starting another, not to mention you can still collide with the scenery while looping and die that way. You can loop as many times as you want! You can also shoot your gun while looping. With good timing you can fire backward. In my experience this isn’t something you can reliably count on, rather it’s more of a happy accident if you hit someone behind you.

In addition to the basic air and ground enemies, there are large bases on the ground. You destroy these bases with bombs. As you are flying along you will hear a beeping indicator over the music to tell you a bomb is approaching. The bomb lays on the ground and you pick it up simply by flying into it. Now you will hold the large bomb underneath your plane. You can deploy the bomb at any time by pressing the B button. Now since the B button is used for this purpose, that means you can’t do loops while holding a bomb. Ground bases are comprised of three parts and you want to aim for the center section. Hitting the middle destroys the entire base and gives you more points than if you hit either side of the base.

Sky Kid also has a recovery mechanic for when you get shot or fly into an enemy. When you get hit you start to spin out and descend, and you lose complete control of your plane. You can regain control by holding Up on the D-pad while pressing A and B rapidly. You are bound to hit the loop button after recovering like this, and normally that is okay. It does put you at risk of colliding with something else and spinning out all over again. It takes longer to recover for every time you get hit and eventually you will end up crashing if you take too many collisions like that. During a two-player game, a player can shoot his partner to recover him during a fall instead of performing the button mashing. Teamwork does make a difference!

Enemies come from almost every direction.

There is a wide variety of enemies and enemy types. Air enemies are mostly planes that resemble yours, however there are a few different movement patterns and tactics to deal with, plus they can enter the field from either the left or right side of the screen. Large planes fly in from the right side and drop several slow-moving bombs that you can destroy with normal fire. There are green parachute enemies that have an upper and lower portion. You get a point bonus for destroying both parts before they get away. Ground targets include armored cars that have no guns and tanks that either fire straight ahead or up at an angle. Ground turrets fire large shells that have a spread effect when they blow up, and these shells are even aimed at you a little bit. Boats can fire both normal and large shots. Submarines pop up briefly but give you a point bonus if you take them out. In later levels, if you hang out in the upper-right part of the screen for too long, Kamikaze pilots will come at you and detonate large explosives. There are other hazards that show up in later stages.

At the end of each mission you can earn bonus points. Sky Kid keeps a tally of each air target, ground target, and base you destroy within the mission. For both air and ground targets, you get a medal for every five enemies of each type you shoot down up to a total of six medals for destroying thirty or more enemies. The bonus points are awarded depending on your medal count. You get 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 5,000, 7,000, or 10,000 points for one through six medals respectively. You earn a large medal for each base you destroy which is worth 10,000 points. You must blow up the entire base by hitting the center to earn the medal.

Drop your bomb early so that it hits the center of the base.

Missions 8, 16, and 24 are Shooting Gallery stages. There are no enemies at all, just targets to aim at. These are short levels and are a nice breather from the normal firefights. After the mission you get medals and bonus points depending on how well you do. You can earn up to four medals for a total of 20,000 points. I know you get 10,000 points for three medals. I never scored any worse than that. Interestingly, there is no bonus for shooting all the targets beyond the 20,000 points for four medals. You are allowed to miss either three or four targets and still get the best bonus.

There are a few other fun ways to earn even more bonus points by clever use of loop-de-loops. Some stages will have ladies dressed in blue. Fly above her and loop to cause her to release several hearts. Each heart collected is worth 1,000 points given out in a special scene after the mission. Some levels have large billboards in them. Loop above the billboard to generate either a medal or an explosive. The medal is worth 1,000 points but the explosive will kill you. I think this was more lucrative in the arcade version. In this port it’s neat to try but not worth it. Some stages have background elements that you can interact with by looping. For example, in the second level, you can loop while flying in front of the sun to turn it into the moon. This also changes the entire color palette of the level from day to night. You get a 1,000 point bonus too. There are a few of these one-off type interactions over the course of the game.

Each game of Sky Kid begins with three lives and you can earn more lives through your score. You earn a life at 30,000 points, another at 80,000 points, and one for every 80,000 points thereafter. There are no continues in the game and no other ways to earn extra lives. Every life you can earn and every life you can save from crashing matters in this game.

Break the targets!

This was my first time playing Sky Kid on NES. I know I tested this game when I bought my cart but I only vaguely remembered it. I believe I bought this game at a local game store for cheap. Sky Kid was featured on a James and Mike Mondays episode in February 2016 and the game shot up in value for a short time. It started under $10 and peaked at $25 and above for loose carts only. Now it has settled back down into the $10-$15 range. For some reason, 5-screw variants of Sky Kid tend to sell at $15 while 3-screw copies sell for closer to $10. As far as I know, there’s no real difference in rarity between the two games.

It turns out I was misled a little bit on where the game ends. The very useful NES Ending FAQ states you get the ending by blowing up the spaceship in Mission 11 and every eleven missions after that. It also says later that you have to let it go in Mission 11 and get it when it shows up next in Mission 26. Allow me to clear it all up here. The spaceship does appear in Mission 11 but it is just a tease. You need a bomb to destroy it as your bullets go right through it harmlessly, but the issue is there isn’t a bomb available until after the spaceship leaves. You could theoretically beat the game in Mission 11 if you used some kind of cheat code to get a bomb early, and it sounds like that’s what the author of the FAQ did. In Mission 13 there’s a large blimp that appears and you can shoot it down by dropping a bomb right on top of it. It’s not the spaceship though. It counts the same as blowing up a base and the game keeps going. I had hoped that maybe the game looped after Mission 15, and that Mission 26 was just the second run of Mission 11 with an early bomb. That was wishful thinking too. Indeed, there are 26 unique missions you have to play under normal circumstances.

What a tease!

Playing through the whole game is quite a feat. I really had no idea this game would be so challenging to beat. I wish now that I had better documented my attempts. I estimate that it took me 30-40 attempts to beat the game over 15-20 hours total. Progress through the game was slow but steady. At first I could only beat a couple of missions. By the end of the first day I reached only Mission 7 or 8. Missions 11-14 represented the first major roadblock and a noticeable bump in difficulty. Mission 20 was a particularly challenging one as it introduces a new hazard that appears to be somewhat randomized. The last two missions are very difficult. Once I was consistently reaching the 20’s, it became a matter of getting that far with enough lives in reserve to survive until the end.

I experienced several near misses and heartbreak before finally beating the game. I reached Mission 25 seven or eight times and Mission 26 at least four times. One time I got to Mission 25 with four or five lives in reserve and lost them all in a row. I had a run where I played almost perfectly through the 20s only to have the TV get shut off during the final mission. My AVS console is powered by the TV through USB so that run vanished when I lost power to both. I saw the Mission 26 spaceship for the first time on my last life of a run. I picked up the bomb I needed, but I got shot soon after which causes you to drop the bomb. I watched the spaceship go by hoping the stage would repeat somehow. It turns out the final mission has no runway, just the final expanse of water. Watching my plane crash into the sea was devastating. The next time I saw the final spaceship I kept my bomb and didn’t miss. Sky Kid’s second loop increases the difficulty by making everything fire much more frequently. In my longplay video, I got up to Mission 39 before losing for good. Reaching halfway through the second loop was more than I could have hoped for.

The action can get a little overwhelming.

I have a few tips and observations of the game that might be a little helpful. I appreciate that Sky Kid has some innate risk and reward elements to its playstyle. If you think about it, the safest place for you to be is the top of the screen. Being as high as you can offers you the most time to make a recovery if you are shot down. It also helps you fly over the hills and buildings that often appear in a level’s landscape that force you to the top anyway. Now you don’t want to be in the upper-right corner because that triggers the Kamikaze pilots. I found the safest location on-screen is a bit left of center at the top. There’s enough time to handle threats from the left while keeping distance from everything else. Ground turret shells can still reach you but there’s enough time to react. If you are being pursued by a plane from behind, you can sometimes do a loop at the top of the screen so that they will follow you and despawn. Now you could stay up there the whole game but you will forfeit a lot of points. Bombs must be obtained from the bottom of the screen and blowing up bases is the key to racking up points and extra lives the fastest. Besides, you are in danger at the top of the screen more often than you would think. There’s room here to play the way that fits your style. I like to score a bunch of points anyway, but here it’s a good strategy because I know I’m better off with more lives and more chances. I tend to stay in the middle of the screen where I can just reach the ground targets. Of course, there’s value in learning the mission layouts and being in position to nix enemies before they become threats. You do have to know some of that to have any shot at later challenges. I have proven you can beat the game with an aggressive approach, and I’m sure you can beat the game with a low score and conservative approach as well.

Sky Kid is a cute shoot-em-up that is fun to play. The graphics are cartoonish in quality and lack some detail, but it looks nice for an early NES game. One graphical issue I failed to mention is the white text is hard to read against a light blue background. There are only a few short songs in the game but they are upbeat and happy for the most part. The controls are responsive. Looping is a fun mechanic that can bail you out of a tough spot but can also get you in trouble if you abuse it. There are several neat details and embellishments such as interacting with background elements and all the ways to earn points. This is a game suitable to play casually, with a friend, or just for points. Trying to beat the game will test you for sure and not many are going see it through to the end. Because this is a simple game, I am going to assume that most people interested in NES games will pass over this one in favor of better, more complex games, and I think that’s okay. Even an average NES game can still provide a good time.

#99 – Sky Kid

MagMax Box Cover

#25 – MagMax

This simple shooter does not crank up the fun to the max as the name might suggest.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

To Beat: Defeat the Dragon after Level 4
To Complete: Complete 3 loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed 3 loops
Played: 8/20/16, 8/25/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Playing games at random like I am doing for this blog means that progression is going to be terribly unpredictable. Ikari Warriors and MagMax couldn’t be any more different in terms of time spent beating the game. While I am thankful that MagMax was a very welcome breather in terms of pushing toward the overall goal, the game itself was not all that interesting.

MagMax was released in the arcades in Japan in 1985. All versions were developed by Nihon Bussan. The arcade version was also published by the developer under the brand Nichibutsu. The NES port was released on the Famicom in March 1986. The US version was published by FCI and was not released until October 1988, nearly two and a half years apart from the Famicom release. The game also received ports to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC all in 1987.

MagMax is a side scrolling shooter. The story goes that aliens conquered the Earth and put the super-computer beast Babylon over the humans. The people fight back by creating a mech named MagMax that is their only hope to take back Earth.

It's pretty slow going starting out.

It’s pretty slow going starting out.

The game has two somewhat interesting gimmicks going for it. The first feature is that as you play you collect and merge the different parts of MagMax to create a fully powered robot. You start off with a basic spaceship that eventually becomes the midsection of MagMax. You can attach the head and legs separately as you come across them. Each segment has its own gun adding more shots to the fray. There is also a wave beam gun that attaches to the head providing even more firepower. You are completely MagMax whenever all four pieces are put together.

The other feature is that there are two separate fields of play and you are able to switch between them periodically. The game starts on the surface and from time to time there will be warp holes that show up. You can choose to descend down the hole and continue play underground. Similarly there are warp holes underground that bring you back up to the surface. The surface has different enemies and obstacles than the underground. The other difference between the fields is in visual perspective. The surface is sort of halfway between side view and top down view while the underground is purely side view. No matter which side you choose, play always scrolls to the right.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

When only the basic starting ship, it only takes one hit to lose a life. However, as you merge with the other parts of MagMax, both the head and the legs can be destroyed separately which lets you take a bullet and survive. You lose your extra firepower but you stay alive which is a fair tradeoff. It gives you a bit of a cushion to survive until finding other replacement parts to build back up to full strength. It should be noted that the wave beam gun gets destroyed along with the head if that part is lost.

The difference in perspective means that each field plays a little bit differently. On the surface, the full MagMax stands taller than all the enemies, so the bullets fire slightly downward and move forward across the ground. The enemies also fire across the ground, so the player hitbox is merely the bottom part of the MagMax. Bullets that appear to hit the top of MagMax actually travel behind it due to the perspective. The wave beam gun on the surface is a constant beam that drags along the ground in front of the player. This can be used to destroy enemies that are otherwise immune to standard shots.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

The underground perspective plays by different rules than the surface. The most visible change is that having multiple parts attached gives the MagMax three distinct vertical levels of shooting the standard beam. In effect this is akin to a spread shot. The downside is that the hitbox is the exact size of the MagMax so when fully powered up the hitbox is three times larger than with the bare ship or on the surface. The wave beam gun underground provides a fireball that blasts across the screen cutting through all enemies in its path.

There are many different types of enemies to deal with. They are your typical nondescript robot ships for the most part all with different attack patterns. The surface tends to have more stationary targets, many of which are only vulnerable to the wave beam gun. The underground tends to have more waves of moving enemies that can be destroyed with any weapon. A few elements in the game have unique properties. There is an enemy type that fires a spread of cannonballs when it’s destroyed that can also defeat other surrounding enemies for bonus points. Underground there are stalactites that will fall to the ground when shot. If an enemy is hit by one of these on the way down it is destroyed for bonus points.

You start the game with two lives and you can earn more from points. There is an extra life at 30,000 points and another awarded at every 50,000 points beyond that. It does take some time to accumulate enough points to rack up lives but each one is worth it.

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

There are four levels in MagMax that blend seamlessly into the next during play. They are the forest, desert, sea, and automated city. At the end of the second and fourth levels you get to square off against Babylon himself. The battle is exactly the same both times and you will come across him on both the surface and underground. After the fight in the fourth stage there is a little bit further to go and then the game loops back to the beginning. Consider the game beaten when this loop point is reached.

This game was another new one for me. I didn’t have much trouble with it at all. In fact I beat the game on my very first try. I kept playing and ended up dying for good early on in the second loop. Even though I beat the game I wanted to take it a step further by playing an entire loop on the surface followed by another full loop underground. That way I get to experience the full content of the game. My second attempt was all I needed to complete that goal.

Having completed all of the surface followed by all of the underground, I can safely say that going underground is significantly more difficult than above. Almost all of the difficulty underground can be attributed to the larger hitbox of MagMax. When fully powered up, the spread firepower is excellent but with the large hitbox it doesn’t last very long. The enemies underground seem to swarm me more. I think MagMax moves slower underground but that may just be me. I did notice that having the legs increases the movement speed and I think that is more important to survival then having the head and wave beam gun. Overall the easiest way to beat the game is to stay above ground as much as possible.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

A few days after beating MagMax I did a bit more research and found out that there is a small change even deeper into the game that I should see for myself. After completing three full loops of the game on one credit, the word “MEIGETSU” appears for a little while above the score counter. It is unclear exactly what this means or is supposed to indicate. It seems to translate to something like “harvest moon” or “great moon,” but I have no clue how that applies to MagMax at all. Either way, I went back and beat three loops so I could see the text. I did notice that the game got harder in the second and third loops, so it is possible that this message indicates that the difficulty is maxed out. I didn’t play a fourth loop to see if I could tell the difference. Anyway, now I think I have seen everything there is to see in MagMax.

The NES port of MagMax is really faithful to the arcade version. It looks and plays just about the same. From what I can tell there are only two noticeable differences. The surface view has a neat parallax scrolling effect in the arcade version where the bottom of the screen scrolls by a bit faster than the top of the screen. This effect is not present in the NES port. In the arcade version Babylon moves around a bit so his attacks are harder to dodge than in the NES version where the boss is stationary.

There is a neat minor Easter egg that I noticed right away when booting up MagMax for the first time. The default high score is set to 65,020 which is clearly a nod to the 6502 processor that the NES runs. I think that reference would have been lost on everyone when the game first came out.

The big bad boss Babylon!

The big bad boss Babylon!

I thought it was a bit difficult to pin an appropriate difficulty rating on MagMax. My decision of 3/10 was the first thing I thought off and I decided to make it stick. The game is very short clocking in at around 10 minutes. There are no continues and only a few lives, but the MagMax pieces doubling as an extra hit goes a long way toward extending each life. By staying on the surface and getting some practice it should not take very many attempts to complete one loop. It is not a cakewalk necessarily, but it is easy enough that 3/10 works I think.

It would be easy to cut MagMax some slack if it were released in the US much closer to the Famicom release. It’s not a great game for 1986 though it is acceptable, but the more than two year delay before the US release does not distinguish this game at all from its contemporaries. I know I would be disappointed if I got this game new in 1988. The good thing is now the game is both common and cheap, and it is much harder to be disappointed when both the acquisition cost and amount of time one would reasonably get out of it is so low. Overall this game is not special and it is fine to skip.

#25 - MagMax

#25 – MagMax