Monday, December 24, 2012

Die Hard (NES)

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Here we go again: the holiday season! You've only got a few days left to wrap those gifts, gang! In order to take your mind off of the holiday doldrums, here's a game that is very peripherally related to Christmas. For some reason that I can't fathom, there really aren't that many games appropriate for the holidays. Aside from the bible games on the Nintendo and the occasional PC game hack or add-on that adds Santa hats to everything from Lemmings to Team Fortress snipers - there really isn't much in the Christmas game department. So here I am plumbing the limited well of Die Hard games to celebrate our snowy season!

So when we last left our grizzled hero John McClane: he was trudging through the original trilogy of Die Hard flicks in 1996's "Die Hard Trilogy" for the Playstation. A game that I recommended only based on the relatively low price point and the fact that you get 3 different games in 1 which was a novel idea and you could tell that the programmers really tried with that game. That game didn't hold up over the years but the NES is timeless, right? Surely this game should hold up much better than the pixelly, polygonal mess of sludgy Playstation-era gaming.

It's no mystery that movie licensed games are hit-or-miss and perhaps no system has more misses than the NES. Lethal Weapon, Total Recall, Terminator, Jaws, Rambo, Platoon, Friday the 13th: these are all games that I hold some quirky nostalgia for, but are ultimately terrible cash-ins. That being said, any of the Capcom Disney games were usually a success and Taito did a decent job with the Hannah Barbera stuff. Hell, even Willow was decently executed. So the question is: can Activision do what LJN, Bandai, or Sony Imagesoft were unable to do? Can they actually make a true-to-cinema representation of Die Hard?


and No.

...and figure out what this buffoon is actually trying to say!
Ok, let's get this right out of the way because it's necessary to put this game into context. This game is hard. I'm not just talking "Nintendo hard," this game is an unrelenting hail of bullets coming straight at your face. When I do these reviews I usually either tackle games that I've already beaten or gotten far enough along that I could easily give you guys and gals the gist of the entire experience. This game is so taxing that I have to admit - I had no choice but to call in the Genie. That's right: I'm a cheap, tawdry, tart in a pink tu-tu. A filthy, no good, down-and-out cheater. You may not respect me in the morning, but at least I got past the first floor. Let's continue.
So many objects on the screen that my NES is having a seizure!
Stylistically speaking, this game is very reminiscent of Alien Syndrome meets Gauntlet. A top-down perspective shooter where it's you versus 40 terrorists. The objectives are such: defeat all of the 40 terrorists, free the hostages on the thirtieth floor, knock out the security computer on floor 5 and defeat Hans the mastermind. So far, so good. The game takes many elements from the film and doesn't add a lot of useless, nonsensical fluff like most movie and tv tie-in games. There aren't pacman ghosts, spiders, dragons or anything that John McClane wouldn't have reasonably faced in the movie. Broken glass is one of the only main obstacles outside of gun-toting thugs and even that has a connection to the film.

                                              God Bless Youtube. Video by user ccnipper

So overall, one could argue that the game is a decent film tie-in based on the relative accuracy, the decently rendered cutscene graphics, and the fast action. However, the difficulty level of the game really mars the enjoyment level. Enemies pop out of dark corners from seemingly nowhere and will fire off bullets in all directions like a "bullet hell" style Shmup. They have a seemingly endless supply of bullets and have no trouble hitting you with most of them. YOU on the other hand are saddled with being able to shoot in awkward 90 or 45 degree angles with no real fluidity or finesse. This is predictable and expected of an NES game, but why can't the enemies be saddled with similar restraints. Or better yet, why can't the easy mode be easier? One of the only main differences between the two modes of easy or difficult is the randomization of floors. There are plenty of powerups in the game that can heal your hitpoints or foot power, but getting past the enemies and to a vending machine or medkit can be a struggle in and of itself - coupled with the fact that any corner that isn't in your immediate periphery is blacked out until you reach it.

Monkey statues = awesome
Another main downfall of the game is that the replayability level is relatively low. Unlike similarly oriented action games such as Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Alien Syndrome, Smash TV, or The Immortal: there's just not much variety waiting around the next corner. One relatively stale office room or boardroom after another, filled with tough to kill, generic bad guys, and no real room traps aside from the ability to accidentally plummet out of the windows or run into some broken glass and cut your tootsies up. In all of the other aforementioned games, there's danger, excitement, surprises around the corner. Here, there's a bearded bad guy movie cliche' on a two-way radio that gives you the heads up that more nondescript goons are coming to drain the last of your limited ammo and health.

But all of the gauze in the world won't cure his athlete's foot!
Overall, Die Hard is a reasonably successful game. If a challenge is what you're looking for, you will get that in spades. It doesn't have the deepest plot in the world, but neither did the movie. As Todd Snider once said in his song "Tension," "After the bad guy killed off all of the underdeveloped characters, the good guy put a bullet right through his head." The graphics are definitely serviceable, the music is a little grating at times but not a tragedy of Color Dreams proportions, and the fact that the game sticks relatively close to the film without veering off into the no man's land of nonsense game developer fantasies (I'm looking at YOU Nightmare on Elm Street) all add up to a licensed game that isn't perfect but definitely has promise. It's better than Dick Tracy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Gilligan's Island, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Karate Kid, Best of the Best, and Platoon, so that's saying something. It's a bit on the pricier side (being an uncommon title) but would be a good action game to have for any NES collector. Happy Holidays and Yippie Ki Yay, Lukie Gamers!