Air Fortress – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Hal Laboratory
Publisher: Hal Laboratory (Hal America)
Release Date (NA): 1989
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Do you love platforming games? Do you love Shoot ’em Up (SHMUP) games? Do you wish you could strap your body into a spaceship and blast your way through multiple air fortresses? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you’ll likely love Air Fortress. While not quite a “blend” of genres, Air Fortress features a variety of genres with graphics and animation set to rival nearly any NES game before or after it. Considering that this game was developed by Hal Laboratory, you know you’re getting a quality experience!
To be quite honest, I had very low expectations for Air Fortress coming in. In the late 1990’s, I went through a phase of collecting NES games as stores were liquidating their old cartridge games to make way for all the new disc-based games. And parents relentlessly donated NES cartridges to the local Goodwill stores, giving collectors like myself plenty to blow their money on. Air Fortress is one of the many many NES carts I discovered in my endless quest to collect as many games as possible, in addition to being one of my many games that I have never actually attempted to play… Until today.
When I first hit the power button on my NES to play Air Fortress, I was graced with a blinking red light and a flashing white screen on my TV. DAMN YOU NINTENDO! After a couple of minutes of engaging in a relentless windstorm of “blow-into-the-cartridge” mythology and realigning the pins to match up right, I got the game working. I was pleasantly greeted with some excellent graphics and familiar music. What is this music and why does it sound so familiar? As it turns out, this game was developed by Hal Laboratory, the company behind LOLO and the Kirby series to name a few. There seems to be a distinctly similar sound between LOLO and Air Fortress, yet obviously different. Anyway, I digress. The game is prefaced with a backstory that goes like this:
The inhabitants of the planet Farmel have lived in peace since the establishment of the stardate calendar. They have traveled all around the galaxy with a new style of spacecraft called the lightship. Then one day the peace was disturbed a mysterious big fortress. It was living and destroying all other civilizations. The federation of intergalactic powers organized the defense forces immediately. The Federation Forces were no match for the superior defenses of the Air Fortress. The fortress totally destroyed all of the Federation Forces. The federation decided to select a specially trained person, ID82592, named Hal Bailman. Hal’s equipment includes a newly developed Light Blaster and armored suit. Now Hal departs to destroy the Fortress and save Farmel.
Interesting, to say the least. Not wildly original but still entertaining enough to drive the game. But we’re not really here for the story, are we? We weren’t in 1989 and we’re not today. We’re here to get a fun gaming experience in our living rooms!
There are 8 total Air Fortresses (levels) that are split up into 2 parts: A side-scrolling shooter section outside of the fortress followed by an on-foot platformer inside the fortress itself. When you first start the game, you will be genuinely confused as to why it is so easy. You’ll fly for about 10 seconds before you see any enemies. Once you put those enemies down, another 10 seconds goes by without any action. It doesn’t really make sense why it would be SO easy, but it is. After a short round lasting about 1 minute and 30 seconds, you will land, get out of your ship, and walk onto an elevator that takes you down into the fortress itself. This is where it gets a little more exciting as it turns into more of an action-adventure-platforming game a la Metroid. Now you’re running/floating around with unlimited missiles and some highly destructive bomb-missiles. This area is also short and mostly easy. In about 5 minutes, you will have defeated the entire first air fortress.
But that’s where the game tricks you because the difficulty increases rapidly. Actually, it doesn’t really increase… It goes from easy to hard in the blink of an eye. But just as with most games of the day, like Cybernoid for example, even when you die over and over again, you want to keep trying to get further each time. And with a little patience, Air Fortress gets better and becomes a great mix of strategy and sheer reflexes. And you can make the game more fun and enjoyable using a QuickShot Flight Grip! IT’S LIKE REALLY FLYING IN SPACE!!!……………….
The gameplay in Air Fortress is really remarkable considering the time in which the game was created. Hal Laboratory included many subtle gameplay elements that most modern gamers might overlook. For example, while on foot inside the fortresses, there are numerous types of enemies, most of which launch some sort of projectile at you. All of these projectiles are designed to home in on you, but some of them will actually loop back around and continue to track you even when you dodge them. This might not be revolutionary, but it sure is neat. And another cool element is when Hal fires his missiles, the kickback actually propels him backwards a little bit, adding some serious strategy at times when you need to shoot an enemy in tight quarters.
You will likely start to feel a bit frustrated and bored as the game wears on. You’re tasked with going through 8 levels that are way too similar in structure and visual presentation, making the game feel like it’s dragging on. And in a sense, it is. The developers could have used some of their cart space to nix out 2 or 3 fortresses and include a greater depth of variety in the remaining fortresses. Granted, the level designs inside the fortress are much more varied than those of the flying stages, especially in later levels, but it’s not enough to keep you from wanting to put a different game in your NES altogether.
Overall, Air Fortress is a top notch NES game with exceptional visual presentation. The graphics, animation, music, sound effects, and core gameplay are truly great, but the game excels with its tight and responsive controls. If you need to dodge an incoming projectile, the game will react instantly when you begin your frenzied button mashing. Unfortunately things do start to get a bit stale and repetitive, mainly due to a lack of visual diversity. But don’t let that keep you from diving into this game. With an uncommon pairing of the shmup and platform genres (and a dose of action as well), Air Fortress really is a one-of-a-kind game worthy of anyone’s time. Replay value is a on the low-end, so don’t spend too much money on it. Air Fortress loses a few points with its highly repetitive structure and unbalanced difficulty ascension, but it receives great praise as a high quality game made by a high quality development team. Oh, and there’s a password system so you can come back to it at a later date without having to start over! Check out the passwords below!
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Bonus Bacon! Passwords!
Level 2 – Part 1 – I8TA
Level 2 – Part 2 – 11NA
Level 3 – Part 1 – KA9I
Level 3 – Part 2 – 5AJI
Level 4 – Part 1 – 6KAI
Level 4 – Part 2 – TOBI
Level 5 – Part 1 – 8NYU
Level 5 – Part 2 – NDA4
Level 6 – Part 1 – 2APP
Level 6 – Part 2 – MA1K
Level 7 – Part 1 – O586
Level 7 – Part 2 – DOMO
Level 8 – Part 1 – SUGA
Level 8 – Part 2 – 7NDA
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