Top Gun – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date (NA): November 1987
Genre: Rail Shooter
Nerd Rating: 5 out of 10
Reviewed by: Variand
Nearly 30 years have passed since Maverick’s wild ride through the Navy’s Top Gun Academy, where he flew against the likes of Iceman and Viper, and despite how much time has passed, I still quote this movie every chance I get. So you strap yourself in for a liberal use of one-liners from the film as I review Konami’s Top Gun.
Top Gun was one of those movies that was awesome and horrible at the same time. Tom Cruises’ impression of a wide mouth bass during the romance scene is still in debate as to whether or not it was the leading cause that drove Kelly McGillis to swear off men. Luckily, there was enough high-octane, jet fighter action and shamelessly horrible writing to make the movie a must-see classic of the decade that brought in nearly $357M. With a movie making that much, it’s only a matter of time before a video game adaptation is created as a means to milk every last dollar out of the name. Top Gun is no exception, and Top Gun the game is, like the movie, both awesome and horrible at the same time.
The action in Top Gun is not anything even remotely similar to the movie, and there are not even any mentions of call signs. Instead, you’re given four missions of increasing difficulty where you pilot an F-14 Tomcat, the Navy’s fighter of choice in the 1980’s as you take out any number of targets from aircraft carriers, to bases, and even a space shuttle in what would be Eastern Soviet Russia. You play the entire game from the cockpit of your jet, and will “dog fight” against several enemies that look a lot like Harrier jets.
With your weapons of machine guns and choice of 3 missile types, you dodge and shoot jets as they fly at you head on or from behind. Occasionally, you’ll be locked onto by an enemy jet, and you’ll be forced to weave side to side to break the lock. Two additional minigames help break up the action. These are in-flight refueling and landing back on a carrier. The carrier landing comes at the end of each mission, and the refueling will be in every mission after the first. These minigames, however, are easily the hardest part of the game. They require perfect precision to complete, and until you’ve mastered the techniques they will eat your lives quickly.
While Top Gun is technically a rail shooter, there are elements of the game that make it one of the early front-runners for a Flight Simulator. As such, the Up and Down are reversed as if using a joystick, which also modifies your speed and altitude. Nose up gives altitude, but loses speed, while nose down gives speed, but loses altitude; run too low on either and you crash. This may take some time to get used to, especially when all your targets are ground or sea based, but it will eventually become second nature to the point where after a sustained dive, you’ll climb afterwards without even looking at the altimeter.
Though there is almost nothing in Top Gun that has anything to do with the movie, they did at least license the “Top Gun Anthem” from the rights holders. This single piece of music played only at the menu and ending scenes, but by far it is the one thing everyone remembers most. The game also features a few other scores, one of which sounds as if someone was trying to mimic the tone, if not the notes, of Kenny Loggins’ Highway to the Danger Zone, another prominent theme used throughout the movie.
The sound effects try their best and don’t disappoint. While the machine guns sound like any other game, and missile lock-ons and firing noises are decent, one sound effect that stands out above the others is the engine sound heard while landing your F-14. The high pinched whine of the engines makes the completion of the landing sequence feel much more enjoyable, especially when you’re used to splashdowns more often than not.
Sadly, the joy of getting to fly a jet, and even the empowering nostalgia of listening to the Anthem wear off fairly quickly once you’re in the air. Visuals outside the cockpit are horribly undetailed, and objects in the distance are little more than a few black specks until you get right up on them. Luckily, this doesn’t impact the gameplay as if you’re seeing something on screen that is not your weapons, refueling tanker, or your carrier, it’s an enemy.
Backgrounds are the worst of it with a blue swatch for sea, a green splotch for dessert, and a red blotch for the apparent Soviet Union. Did you know that in Soviet Russia, the land was red? Me neither, but apparently Konami thought so. That being said, it should have been a dead ringer that the graphics would be awful when the most memorable part of the game was the theme song.
While Top Gun was nowhere near the prettiest games out there, the evolutionary steps away from the typical rail shooter helped it stand apart from its counterparts. And since Star Wars Arcade couldn’t be brought into your home (unless you bought the cabinet for a price that only George Lucas could afford), games like Top Gun were all you had to scratch that itch when you Feel the need – The need for speed. Plus its difficulty level caused by the inverted controls and need for frantic dodging also left many gamers feeling a need to keep playing till they beat the game.
Were my pre-flight checks not thorough enough? Do you think that the action in Top Gun was the best on the NES, or that Tom Cruise is one of the best on screen kissers? Or do you have fond memories of sitting at the main menu just listening to the Top Gun Anthem? Tell me about it in the comments below, and be sure to include your favorite movie quote! Now… Any of you boys seen an aircraft carrier around here?
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