Captain Skyhawk - I remembered this game from my childhood. I never had it myself, but one of my friends did and he never seemed to like it all that much, so he let me borrow it for a long time until I mastered the damn game and gave it back to him. Captain Skyhawk is a strange little game developed by Rare (yep, THAT Rare) and released by Milton Bradley (yep, THAT Milton Bradley!), but a decent one overall. The main parts of the game are vertical shooting segments, much like Raptor or Ikaruga, except there's an interesting detail: you can alter your ship's altitude to bring it closer to the ground or higher into the air. This is actually a pretty neat idea! It's just too bad they didn't really do much with it except make obstacles close to the ground easier to run into when you're closer to it. In fact, when you fire, altitude doesn't even matter! You'll nail ground-based enemies even if you're as high up as you can go, which really doesn't make much sense and honestly eliminates the need for an altitude variable to begin with. Obviously you'll just leave your ship as high up as possible because you'll dodge every environmental obstacle (and many projectiles) while still being able to destroy everything in your path. It makes me think that they should've had tunnels or something you had to be at certain altitudes to fly into...but maybe that'd be too tricky with NES programming. Oh, and those environmental hazards look retarded...they're like crappy vector graphics except...this really isn't a vector-style game.
In addition, there are also stages where you blast ships out of the sky in a third-person behind-the-ship view, much like Afterburner or Top Gun. These are...okay at best. They're not fun and they're not terribly challenging, but I see what they were trying to do here by changing up the gameplay a tad. As I said, Captain Skyhawk is a decent game...just not an overly amazing one. It has a lot of neat ideas that just aren't handled well as a whole...I feel like if a sequel came out, it would have been much improved. Plus, who the heck can fly an F-14 jet in space? Captain Skyhawk, that's who...and no one else!
Blast off...into MEDIOCRITY!!!
Strider - I was glad to find this little gem! Strider is a very famous and well-known game series by Capcom, and this is the first entry of it for home consoles. Based on a manga called Strider Hiryu, you play as the title ninja as you try to neutralize evil computers that possess people's minds and also destroy your own previous cohorts that have seemingly turned against you. You do this in a very non-linear fashion by exploring various regions of the world, where you gather items, keys, and security clearance that let you access new areas. As you polish off bosses and finish levels, Strider Hiryu also levels up and gains new attacks and spells. It's pretty damn cool actually, if not a little easy...I had no trouble finishing this game whatsoever, but that shouldn't dissuade someone from playing Strider. It's well-made and has some great ideas for the time, never feels unfair, and also has some great instances of poor translation! I also find it funny when you can clearly pick out other games that a specific engine was used for on the NES for some reason...it's pretty clear Strider and Bionic Commando run on the same basic framework, which is kinda neat!
8-bit cyber ninjas are the best kinds of ninjas.
Xevious - With respect to vertical scrolling shooters, you don't get much more classic than Xevious...it is one of the first ones, after all. As such, it's pretty basic, but at the time it was absolutely revolutionary. You control a small gray ship as you blast through waves of enemies, which can be both air and ground based (come to think of it, that's 2 games now in this batch that have that little mechanic...hmm.) For air enemies, you have a straight-shooting weapon, and for ground enemies you have bombs that will hit the ground at the location of a small reticle located about 4 ship lengths in front of your craft. This allows you to blast apart tanks and turrets, and also smash a lot of the "bosses" that you have to contend with (Bosses in quotes because they're not terribly tough). It's a fun game despite being very basic, and I'd say it's even better than Captain Skyhawk even though it came out years before. One of the cool things about it is that the backgrounds never seem to repeat all that much. It's almost as if someone went into MS Paint and drew out a massive vertical drawing that's always slightly different in each area, and slapped it into the game. You never really see the same part twice, which does a couple of things. First of all, you're always seeing something new so it never seems to get tiresome. Secondly, since each area is unique, you know what to expect when you reach them, and it helps you to know the game a bit better...although I find that some of the enemies change up a bit too on occasion. Overall, this is a sweet game...I played it quite a bit when I was younger and I'm glad I found a copy of it!
Q*Bert - And here's the one I just picked up this evening! I haven't even played it yet, but...c'mon, it's Q*Bert, you oughtta know all about this game! You play as a ball with legs and a giant nose named Q*Bert (who also has a cameo in the upcoming Pixar movie, Wreck-It Ralph), and begin the game at the top of an isometric field of cubes. From there, you jump down onto the rest of the cubes of the board one by one in an attempt to make them all the same colour, which is a target colour given to you each round. Eventually, cubes can take a good amount of hops to change to the right colour, and so figuring out a sequence to hit them all such that they'll all be the same at one time can be pretty tricky. Add in the fact that enemies impede your progress and chase you around the board, such as the infamous Coily the Snake, and you have a unique but stressful arcade classic. Can't wait to fire this one up and see how far I can get! When I rented Q*Bert as a kid, I wasn't terribly good at it...but maybe that'll all change around, starting now!
Keep gaming, and look for a sweet comparison article very shortly!
P.S. For those who are interested, the remake of La-Mulana is finally being released for PC tomorrow! It'll be made available for $15 US at Playism, so be sure not to miss it if you want a solid and lengthy side-scrolling adventure! I'll have a review of it up...in a while, lol. I imagine it'll take me a bit to get through, even taking into account my first playthrough of the original version!