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04 June 2015 @ 07:59 pm
Game Review: Power Blade  
With this blog post, I can officially inaugurate my Nintendo Power Cover Game series. Based on how many other games I have in my backlog, I expect that it'll take me approximately twice as long as my remaining lifespan to finish, but hey, more than one constitutes a series!

Power Blade is another one of those games I saw in Nintendo Power as a child and thought it looked really neat, but for whatever reason I never managed to find a copy. Maybe I lost interest due to youthful (and eventually successful) attempts to beat Final Fantasy, or maybe I was renting Mega Man III for the dozenth time. Anyway, it sat in the back of my mind for decades until recently when, in the attempt to put off the looming behemoth that is Baldur's Gate II, I dusted off the memories, loaded up JNES, and started playing.

The first thing I learned is that Duke Nukem apparently took extra work to pay the bills between the first two games:

Nice try with the glasses, Duke. We know who you are.

Not that it matters, because as an NES platformer the story is only there to explain why you're killing all these enemies and where the powerups are coming from, and even then it does a murky job. The Nintendo Power article about Power Blade repeatedly references aliens who have showed up to invade and subverted the Master Computer to which the idiots in charge of Earth turned over all their defenses, but the in-game story is just that the Master Computer went rogue one day and now has to be stopped. Either way, it turns out that having one single point of failure for your massive defense system is an incredibly stupid idea.

Against this overwhelming threat, the people of Earth summon Nova, who Wikipedia describes as "a lord of the ancient Power Blade," which means that he throws a boomerang while fighting an army of killer robots. With powerups, he can throw more than one boomerang at once, increase their range, and imbue them with Generically Orange Energy, but you know, boomerangs. Killer robots. Apparently Earth turned all their tactical planning over to the Master Computer too.  photo emot-awesomelon.gif


When I say "killer robots," I mostly just mean platforming enemies. Sure, there are flying deathbots and robotic soldiers and turret emplacements and what are clearly liquid metal Terminator skeletons, but there are also robot gorillas who throw cannonballs, robot fish, and a bunch of bosses that include a robot wizard, a robot dragon, and ROBOT BEES. Mighty warriors fight with boomerangs and the Earth is defended by robot bees. The future is truly stranger than we could have imagined.

The end result is pretty standard in platforming terms, and it's really not that different than all the weird robots in the Mega Man games.  photo emot-megaman.gif I was going to mention realism, but once your game stars a lord of the ancient Power Blade I think all that goes out the window anyway.

The titular Power Blade.

The level design and gameplay flow are surprisingly open for a NES platformer. Like a Mega Man game, you can choose which order you try the stages, but unlike Mega Man there's no way you can render the game much easier or much harder because there's no rock-paper-scissors powerups. Powerup drops come from any enemy, and really only come in a handful of varieties. Other than boomerang enhancements I already mentioned, you can pickup hamburgers to increase your health, grenades that let you damage everyone on the screen, power tanks that can totally refill your health, and the Power Suit that lasts three hits and lets you throw energy blasts through walls.

Powerups last from stage to stage and it's possible to revisit already-beaten stages to collect more, though there's really no reason to do so because in the classic tradition of NES games, enemies respawn as soon as their spawn point is off screen, so it's entirely possible to run back and forth killing enemies and collect all the powerups if you're patient enough. There's a time limit for each level, but on Normal difficulty it's so high as to effectively be absent.

One more twist that makes Power Blade different is that the levels aren't linear. You can see the maps here (scroll down a bit), and each one requires you to find the secret agent who has the key card before going to the boss door and fighting the robot wizard or whatever the level boss is. If you die and have to continue, you keep any key cards you acquire. And it's even more forgiving than Metal Storm, because there's a password system.

Good thing Earth's defenders put the Master Computer in the center of the city instead of an underground bunker.

After another game without the legendary Nintendo Hard that I remembered from Castlevania III and Air Fortress and... Battletoads  photo emot-byodood.gif...I went online to see if there was any information about it. What I found was an article written by the amazing people at Hardcore Gaming 101 that explained that there was a Japanese original except it was worse. The levels were linear, the character was slow, and you couldn't throw the boomerang in eight directions like Nova can. But in the process of making the game and the protagonist more accessible, the game was definitely made easier.

While your power meter needs recharge time after each throw, and if you just spam boomerangs they have a shorter range than they otherwise would, even then it doesn't make that much of a difference since most fights are at closer range and the American version added the ability for boomerangs to hit enemies coming and going. About the only remaining frustration is that a lot of the jumps require pixel-perfect placement or you fall to your doom, and even though the levels are non-linear, falling off a screen still kills you.

They'll never find me here, literally right outside the boss's door!

I'm not going to complain about that, though. Difficulty from being slow and hard to control is not something I'm interested in. It's why I can't go back to the earlier Resident Evil games and why so many old DOS action games are nearly unplayable for me nowadays (though I don't mind strategy interfaces. A lot of clicking if there's no time limit is no problem). パワーブレイザー sounds like the kind of game I would have put down partway through and never bothered to pick up again, whereas I had fun the entire time I was playing Power Blade.

Though despite that, I'm not sure I can really recommend it. It was good, sure, but there are a lot of games that you could say that about and there's nothing special to make Power Blade stand out from the rest of them. If I had played it as a child I would have liked it, and I probably would have spent long enough on it to beat it, but it wouldn't stand out in my memory at all the way that, say, Crystalis does. As much as it seems like an  photo emot-iceburn.gif, I'd have to say that it's good if you're a fan of the genre.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."

It's true. It is. But there are other games that are better, like Mega Man II or Castlevania III, or Shovel Knight if you want the NES platformer that never was, and you should play those first before you play Power Blade.

Or if you'd rather play a PC game, you could play the original Duke Nukem and see what "Nova" does for his real job.
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