After what seems like forever, our friend UKNESBoy is back! And he’s let us steal this review originally published on his site so we can link back to it in an upcoming Top Gun podcast (yes, you heard me right)!
Two years. Well, nearly two years anyway, since the last review on this site. A lot has changed in the two years since the last review but some things don’t seem to change no matter how long time has passed. Princess Peach will still never learn and find herself in situations to be kidnapped by Bowser. Water levels, no matter how good the graphics and what genre of game it is, will always be a pain in the proverbial rear. Platforming games will always start off with a green and lush level to get you started in the game. And finally, after thirty years, can someone please explain how on earth to land the plane on the aircraft carrier?! The last sentence of course refers to everyone’s favourite movie-based NES game which has an almost iconic status, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. So let’s take a look and see if that same passage of time makes the game “plane” bearable or whether it can “jet” into the skies as one of the greats…
Top Gun is a video game based off the 1986 movie of the same name, that was released on the NES by Konami in North America in November 1987 and one year later in November 1988 for those in Europe. Those lucky lot. The idea of the game is that there are four missions to complete, starting off with a training mission before progressing to the real meat of the game, shooting down planes in the sky, landing on aircraft carriers, destroying enemy aircraft carriers and also blowing up enemy space shuttles. Whilst attempting to destroy aircraft carriers and planes, they of course are attempting to shoot missiles at you preventing you from completing your duty, generally making nuisances of themselves. The view you have in-game is from the cockpit, making you feel you’re at the heart of the action and can see the enemy planes in the sky and the aircraft carriers down below, rather than being side-scrolling and not feeling like your at the centre of the action. It is touches like that which are welcomed.
Upon turning the game on, from the moment the opening credits roll you’re treated to the theme from Top Gun which does sound admittedly well done. If the sights and sounds of the film pumped you up, then the 8-bit rendition in the opening credits does a great job replicating that feeling. Even when you leave the game to run the opening demo, the music is fast paced, rock-inspired and does sound really good – in fact although you the reader cannot see this for yourself, the opening music is being played as this is being written. But you didn’t spend your hard earned cash on a video game to listen to the music and never play the game did you?! Some of you might…but anywho, you press start and are treated to a lovely image of a F-14 Tomcat fighter preparing for take-off, with sound effects reminiscent of the Atari 2600, with it’s ocean waves sounding like nuclear explosions. You’re then taken to a screen where you can select from one of the types of missiles you can use in-game. What is handy is that it doesn’t give just a generic name and the quantity of it that you have – it shows you how powerful it is. This is where the choice lies with you, the gamer. Do you pick a missile that you have more of in terms of quantity but less powerful, or a more powerful missile but less of them? Decisions decisions, personally the middle route is always favoured however the choice as they say, is yours. You pick your missile, and head up to the skies to start blasting enemy planes and missiles that they shoot at you.
The controls are simple enough, with the A button being your unlimited standard gun, B button being your missile that you have limited quantity of. The d-pad is standard *for a flying game* – this is noted because left and right inputs are simple enough, moving your plane in that direction but pressing the up key makes your plane descend in altitude, and the down key making your plane ascend in altitude. If you are used to plane games this should be second nature to you but if this is the first time playing an aviation-type game, this may take some getting used to. The controls do feel tight although bear in mind that your standard gun can be used anytime but your missile can only be used when locked on an enemy which is shown by a cursor onscreen. As noted earlier, the music in this game is on point, and gets you in the mood to be Maverick yourself. The sound effects however, bland and monotonous and makes you want to use the ejector seat. Flying round to a constant dull drone, broken up by planes flying past and the sound of your gun being fired isn’t the most appealing. If it wasn’t for the fear of missing the awesome-rock based music between levels it would be better putting on the Top Gun Soundtrack and listening to that instead. The graphics, well to be fair in-game they are not the most inspiring. The backgrounds are solid blocks of colour that have little detail in them, the clouds look like popcorn and the planes look okay but there isn’t anything visually that would “take your breath away”.
As noted in the introduction, one of the most memorable parts of the game comes right after completing the training mission, and that is landing your plane on the aircraft carrier. For those of you who have watched other gamers or reviewers playing the game and thought how easy it looks to land the plane, please try it for yourself. The barrage of instructions barked at you on-screen in a short space of time is enough to put the heebie-jeebies into anyone, with it’s “SPEED UP” or “RIGHT! RIGHT!” at the merest hint of an input on the d-pad. At this part, you have to not only control your altitude (which is straight forward enough) but also control the angle in which your plane lands on. You’re constantly monitoring the altitude and speed on the left hand side, whilst also trying to follow the instructions in the bottom centre part of the screen – it is enough to actually put this reviewer off being a plane-driver or fighter pilot in real life. Sometimes as well, it says “UP UP” or “DOWN DOWN”, but does that mean the plane has to be down in angle, down in altitude, or pressing the down d-pad? Some people will read this and think that the plane-landing part is easy, or that it can be done 99 times out of 100, and if you are one of those people then nothing but the greatest of respect to you. Even if you cannot land the plane, you still move on to the second level which then makes you think “What was the point? My plane crashed in the sea” or “I overshot the runway” but here you are starting the next mission blowing up enemy aircraft carriers? As well, there is the refuelling parts of the mission that require precision inputs and an equal sense of frustration but this seems to get overlooked too in favour of the more famous landing sequence.
Top Gun has the dubious honour of being memorable and a part of gamer’s childhoods but for all the wrong reasons, ranking up there with such titles on the system as Fester’s Quest. Everyone who owned a NES seemed to have Top Gun, and everyone has the same eye-roll and look of horror when discussing it especially when it came to the plane-landing sequence. It is about time the game is viewed in a different perspective – in the US there were over 700 licensed games but how many of those were memorable? Yes, the plane-landing sequence will go down in gaming history as one of the most frustrating, and no, the graphics aren’t the most detailed and vibrant. But you got to control a jet fighter, shooting at bad guys, blowing up space shuttles and aircraft carriers, and it has the theme from the film! It is odd that a game is remembered for one small part alone, but surely it is best to be remembered for something rather than forgotten about, right? Saying that though, if the best part of a video game is a rendition of the music from the film, you do have to wonder how positive you can spin the game. Overall, the game is worthy of a play at least once, even if it is just to say that you can truly appreciate the landing/refuelling sequences and wear the proverbial badge with pride, to say you attempted it and lived to tell the tale. Was this the game to end a near two-year high hiatus? Hmm….maybe not, but this reviewer had to lift-off and wing it from somewhere…