Silver Surfer review
The thin white line between shoot em up hard and just f'ing impossible


Shoot em ups - we all know what they are and why everybody loves them. They're hard. Damn hard! They manage to give the player a hell of a challenge, but also manage to be fun as hell. Why else would these games be considered awesome? The genre may be dying and even extinct at this point, but there's nothing wrong with going back to the past and playing some of their shoot em ups, right? Well, maybe there is if you're going to play Silver Surfer. Best known as a game the AVGN reviewed, criticising the difficulty and some real cheap tricks the game uses. Now, yeah, the game is difficult as all hell, but isn't it typical of shoot em ups? Well, the way Silver Surfer does it is that it takes a typical shoot em up, triples the difficulty, and adds annoying overhead levels to make it cheaper. All in all, if you're planning on playing Silver Surfer, prepare for a bumpy ride.

The story is that Galactus summons the Silver Surfer to tell him that the Magik Domain are planning to destroy existence and they need the cosmic device to stop them. Silver Surfer refuses at first, but then reluctantly accepts. I guess he's not that invincible, or he would've kept refusing. Anyway, the story is... there. Just a reason to destroy monsters and evil beings, we've all heard this shit before. But hey, if you want a story, go read a Silver Surfer comic or go watch Fa... actually, just read the comic. NES is for gameplay.

One thing worth noting is the stage select screen. Much like with Mega Man, you can choose which order you want to go in. The difference is that there are no advantages or disadvantages in the order you choose, but I guess it's better than a rigid line - at least here, you can sample how hard every level is in the first 5 minutes of play.

As for how Silver Surfer plays, it's like your typical shoot em up. You're moving along a scrolling level, and there's shit flying towards you (and sometimes, behind you). What do you do? Shoot them in the head! Shoot them! It doesn't tinker with the formula too much thankfully, so at least the basic principles are familiar. It'll alternate between vertical and horizontal for each part of the level, and of course, there's the one hit you're dead thing going on, with enemies, bullets and walls being Silver Surfer's kryptonite.

Already though, there's a problem, and that's his size. For the horizontal stages, it's not too bad. He's a bit bigger than the spaceships off Gradius and Life Force, and as I said, walls and obstacles can kill this guy. But again, nothing too huge, except in some stages where there are heaps of obstacles. It's really the vertical stages that hit where the sun don't shine. Your board is about a million feet long, which spells disaster when dealing with obstacles coming down. Obstacles on the side? No big deal unless you move heaps. But obstacles in front and behind? Especially with a certain few levels, they're laid out quite cheaply. They can be pretty deceiving...

To make things worse, it's not exactly obvious what's an obstacle and what's scenery, and again, the vertical stages are worse off than the horizontal stages. Actually, only one or two horizontal stages stick the middle finger in this department, especially one where the death walls blend in with the background, but some of the vertical stages stick these little paths in the way and make only certain sorts of floors actually feel like floors. It's extremely hard to tell if they're actually floors, or walls. Sure, you could rapid fire and check to see if the bullet stops at that obstacle to check if it is such, but you might not be able to pay attention due to some of the huddled crap that will fly your way. It's as if this game was made just to piss you off!

I guess the game is a little merciful. There are checkpoints, multiple lives and continues. That counts for something, I suppose. I would've liked a health bar and to just be stopped by a wall, not killed! But I guess I should be thankful that there are mid-point checkpoints and 4 continues, though if all lives are lost, you're going back to the beginning of that section. Again, though, they could've been pricks and sent you to the beginning of the entire level, so I guess I'm thankful there too.

You have power ups, which at least help you stand a chance against enemies and bosses. There's the silver ball that acts as a secondary weapon, which is an absolute lifesaver. Then there's F, which increases firepower. Lastly, there's B, which is the "kill everything on screen" attack, though they're rare and you only start with one, so don't think you can spam them. Two problems arise though. One, if you die, they're all gone, and you're screwed until you can get 1 or 2 F's, since enemies resist level 1 bullets. Two, there could be more power ups. Just an increase in firepower? That's lame! Where's my laser? Homing beams? Not a huge deal when there are bigger problems, but most shoot em ups usually offer a few power ups. This only offers stronger bullets and a bomb. Come on!

At the end of each section, you fight a boss. Each boss is basically the same thing - one sort in overabundance that will send legions of enemies to do their dirty work, or the rare sort that will fight you off by itself. They're kind of pitiful. You get through a tough as nails level, just to deal with a boss that is nothing more than an enemy that takes more hits to kill. It's especially disappointing when the main bosses themselves aren't all that menacing! They just send more enemies to do their dirty work and not put up much of a fight themselves. It feels unrewarding at best to beat the bosses, and the final boss... come on, I've seen mid-bosses from Gradius more menacing than him! He's only hard because there's heaps of bullets flying your way! Wow! So effin epic!

Not much else to say on gameplay. It's fairly cut and dry, except for how much it pisses me the hell off with its insane designs which seemed to have accomplished their mission. Could touch on controls, but they're standard - one to fire, one to change direction of the secondary weapon, and Select to use the bomb. They work well, obeying commands and whatnot, though if there's any problem, it's the fact that you press B for weapon switching. Since you'll be spending most of the level firing rapidly, you need to use the other hand to switch the direction. Oops, you're dead because you failed to move out of the way of an incoming missile! Seriously, was this game tested by a squid or something!?

Whatever, at least the graphics look nice. They are far from perfect, but reasons why that is have already been explained - can't distinguish decoration from hazard. But the actual look of the game and the limited animations is something worth praising. Silver Surfer looks like himself which is a good start. The beginning scene serves as some nice eye candy with the different models of Silver Surfer and Galactus. And of course, the levels themselves have some nice looking decoration (except a certain level where the walls blend in with the background) and are nice to look at as well. Nothing that's above the standard, but still nice looking regardless.

Where the game shines - outside of frustration - is in it's soundtrack. There's a limited number and only 2 are used throughout the entire 6 level game, alternating between each section like the perspective. UNLIKE the perspective alteration, the songs are both awesome. They're both upbeat and energetic, which is what all shoot em ups crave in their soundtracks. The intro track is futuristic with a beat, which works with the license very well (Silver Surfer IS metallic, after all). Overall, the soundtrack is impressive. It's true that you'll hear more of the firing sound effect which will be seared into your retina through prolonged exposure, the sound effect and other effects themselves are standard and sound nice for 8-bit sound effects. Nothing special there, but nothing shabby either.

Generally speaking, Silver Surfer isn't a TERRIBLE game unlike what the AVGN made it out to be, but it's very frustrating to play through, especially with a perspective that causes more trouble than its worth. Because of this frustration, it doesn't QUITE come recommended to many people... in fact, only shoot em up vets and masochistic people will really get into this game, but for others, there are better NES shoot em ups desperate for attention, like Legendary Wings and Dragon Spirit. Go for them instead.


Gameplay: 2
Should've stayed horizontal... at least that's playable and actually kind of good. The vertical stages were full of cheap bullshit and weren't designed all too well, especially one particular stage. The lack of power-ups was kind of upsetting, with only a couple throughout the entire game. Usually, there's heaps! Boss battles are nothing to wet your panties over.

Controls: 3
Pretty much HIT A AS FAST AS POSSIBLE AND DON'T STOP! If you don't have a turbo controller, you're about as good as dead unless you have a quick trigger finger repeatedly smashing the A button. Switching direction for the secondary weapon is a bit weird, considering that it's mapped to the B button, and since you're slamming that A button heaps, you need the other hand, but since that's for the d-pad... just keep that secondary weapon forward.

Story: 4
It's just an excuse to kill enemies. Standard stuff, really.

Graphics: 2
Looks nice. It's not made obvious at all what kills you and what doesn't kill you upon collision, but the levels themselves are pleasing to the eye. Looks can't really save it, though.

Sound: 3
Only 4 songs, 2 of which alternate between stages? At least the title song fits the license, and at least the stage tunes are upbeat and energetic, which is what you should be feeling while playing a shoot em up. Unfortunately, the only song you might hear is a symphony of rapid PEW PEW, as you're constantly firing. Sound effects themselves are typical explosion, shot, etc, but drowns out the soundtrack a bit.

Lastability: 3
Depends, really, It can vary between a half hour of blazing through it, an hour or two of trial and error to get through it, or about five minutes resulting in smashing your controller after dying over and over again. Not much replay value, unless you don't mind challenging yourself over and over.

Funfactor: 2
If you're not looking for a challenge, you won't have a single bit of fun, because this game is anything but easy... and even if you are looking for a challenge especially in shoot em ups for you shoot em up vets, the overhead levels will piss you off to no end due to extremely cheap designs (seriously, could Silver Surfer be any bigger?). It's just frustrating.

Bottom line:
Silver Surfer is a very tough cookie, to the point of being petrified. It does offer a grand challenge even to shoot em up vets, but due to it's cheapness, it only comes recommended if you are willing to dedicate a lot of time to memorize everything, and then some. It could have been a classic like Gradius, but instead, it chose to put difficulty over fun.


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