Silver Surfer (NES, 1990)
Silver Surfer is not a bad game. I only say that, not because it's a particularly good game, but because it has a pretty bad reputation, often getting lumped in with the likes of Spider-man and (shudder) The Uncanny X-men. Its notoriety, helped in part due to the Angry Video Game Nerd's review, mainly stems from its absurd level of difficulty. Well, there's no denying that, but it still doesn't make it a bad game.
But wait - I'm not here to shake my cane and defend some old-school notion of "challenge," which is most often nostalgia painted over unfair and cheap game design. Hell no! I'm practically a filthy casual these days, and unless it's a game I really love, I rarely play 8-bit games without the use of cheats or at least save states. No, there's no getting around the fact that the level of difficulty in Silver Surfer is brutally steep, almost antagonistic, as if it defies the player to advance.
What I do about the genre is that the games usually don't translate well to consoles, moreso than other genres - most of them being intense arcade material. So the fact that Silver Surfer was developed exclusively for the NES means that it runs smoothly, with hardly any slowdown and only the usual NES transparency. Which is more than we could say for, I don't know, Gradius or Astro Warrior. No really, that's the extent of my shmup experience.
It's not just the fact that walls are insta-death for our silver friend, but there are so damn many of them. And it's not just walls - damn near anything could spell death. Navigating it all would be hard enough, but it's incredibly difficult to tell what will and won't send the Surfer falling off his board. I don't know much about the genre, but I can't imagine any other game where navigating the environment is so much more heavily emphasized over killing and dodging enemies. But of course the enemies are still there, and some of them fire - and did I mention dying resets level (and upgrade) progress?
Yeah, it's as bad as it sounds. Throw on the invincibility cheat, just to get a glimpse at the entire game - and it's a decent, if unremarkable, little shmup. There are no other interesting mechanics to speak of. Maybe if the NES could handle it, destructible environments would have gone a long way towards making it both more fun and tolerable. And it'd be a crime if I didn't mention the game's music - put simply, it is one of the best soundtracks on the NES, bar none (composed by Tim Follin, one of the more interesting old-school composers out there). It's reason enough to seek the game out, and maybe get a taste of death-by-rubber-duck for yourself.
As always, screenshots are mine and box art from GameFAQs.