One of the best NES games is called Blaster Master
. Jason's pet frog jumps down a hole in the ground after being mutated to enormous size, and he follows it and finds a big metal tank hidden down there, which he immediately gets in and starts driving around because plot (although hey, big metal tank with the keys in the ignition, teenager...). Seeing the giant horde of mutants that live within the bowels of the earth, he decides the logical thing to do is fight them all to get his pet frog back. Of such elements were the stories of NES games made.
Note that the story of the Japanese version was totally different, with nary a frog to be seen.
It was hard. Not because the moment-to-moment gameplay was hard--it was a fairly standard Metroidvania platformer, though with the addition of top-down dungeon segments when Jason left the tank and walked around and shot things--but because the bosses were brutal and there were limited continues and no way to save. A few of the bosses had a special cheaty way to beat them, whereby you could throw a grenade and pause the game and the grenade would continue exploding and doing damage even while the game was paused. The game even looped the hurt sound effect during the pause screen, so I'm not sure how this bug made it into the final game, but nonetheless it did. Not all of the bosses were vulnerable to it either, and one of the bosses that wasn't was the boss of Stage 3.
That boss was a square that teleported around and moved between various avatars
while shooting you. As you shot him, he a) started moving faster b) started teleporting at more frequent intervals. That took me a lot of practice before I could reliably beat him, and there were several playthroughs that ended at that boss or not long after due to how many lives I lost trying to kill him.
(Skip forward to 2:00)
Yeah. It's like that.
Okay, now put on this music to set the mood, because it's fantastic and is also relevant to the story:
Stage 5 mostly took place underwater, and when you first get there the tank can't navigate. It can jump higher underwater but can't swim, so the stage is mostly just a continuous process of descending to the bottom of a gigantic underwater trench and fighting the boss at the bottom, who gives you a module to install into the tank that lets it swim, thus allowing you to make the climb all the way back up to the top. On the way down, you have to destroy a barrier using your tank's gun to descend to further depths. This will become important later.
The boss of Stage 5 was a Giant Crab Thing
that shot bubbles at you. That sounds ridiculous, but it was actually quite difficult:
Note the "zero gun" challenge bit there. That probably needs some context, so let me explain. You could power up your tank only by killing bosses and getting the enhancements they dropped, but you could power up your character by finding powerups in the dungeons. Obviously there were health replenishing powers, but there were also gun powerups that would power-up your main gun, so it went from shooting tiny bullets about 30 feet to shooting bullets across the screen to shooting bullets that moved in a wave pattern to shooting bullets that moved in a wave pattern and went through walls. If you got hit, your gun lost power, and the scaling was unequal--it depowered faster per increment than it powered up. I'd usually power my gun to max in an early dungeon and try to avoid getting hit for most of the rest of the game, because a fully-powered gun makes the game vastly easier.
Well, it turns out that filling the whole area in front of you with bubbles while having your only weak point being the mouth from which the bubbles are actively shooting out of is a pretty effective counterpoint to a gun that shoots wave bullets through walls. Even assuming that I had managed to maintain my gun level, it was hard. And if I hadn't, or if I died? Forget it. Any game that managed to make it past Stage 3 died at the boss of Stage 5.
Except for one. One game, I was dodging bubbles and throwing grenades and fighting and all of a sudden, the crab started exploding. I think I kept shooting for a couple seconds because I couldn't believe it. I mean, the boss of Stage 5 was unbeatable, right? Well, apparently not. And I grabbed the tank powerup that allows the tank to swim and left the dungeon.
When I got out, I started swimming. See, this time I had left the tank farther behind than I usually did, just to see if I could make it all the way down to the bottom of the chasm without it. I mean, I wasn't going to beat the boss anyway, so I was setting other challenges. But then when Giant Mutant Crab was dead, I had to swim up back to the tank, so I did. I swam up and up and up, halfway up the trench, and that's when I found the wall. I had left the tank on the other side of the barrier that you had to shoot through to progress, and when I went into the boss dungeon, it had regenerated. The tank was there, mere feet away, but may as well have been as far away as the moon. I had one life left, but if I tried to die to restart with my tank, the game would end and I'd lose all my progress.
I stared at the TV for a few moments, turned the game off, and never played it again.
: Though with a much better Japanese title. "Super Planetary War Records: Metafight"? Awesome. It's like how Crystalis
is "Godslayer: Sonata of the Far-Away Sky" in Japan.
: Pre-dating the term! It has the same "get powerups, backtrack, now you can go new places" mechanic, though.
: That dungeon had enough powerups to take your gun to max and the enemies were so weak you were highly unlikely to be hit; a combination that was rare to nonexistent in any other dungeon.