I don't know why people liked the NES so much. Okay, I lie. I know perfectly well why people liked the NES so much, but just bear with me on this one.
If you give someone born in the past ten to fifteen years an NES and a stack of your favorite games from that era, I highly doubt they'd leave with a favorable impression or at least one that in any way matches your own. It's not so much because of the dated graphics and audio but because of the backwater mechanical conventions that plagued just about every title. Even the best of the best featured concepts that we'd find dated by today's standards, so naturally the less savory or well-known games would be triply so.
I'm talking really bone-headed decisions here, like limiting players to a single life or manufacturing no-escape situations whereby players would be forced to take leaps of faith in the hope that their actions will eventually yield positive results. Basically, I'm talking about games in which difficulty arises not from a particular challenging but balanced set of obstacles but from good ol' fashioned, grade A, high quality, no-preservatives-added bullshit.
Guess which side of the track 8 Eyes falls on.
OFFENDER: 8 Eyes DEVELOPED BY: Thinking Rabbit RELEASED ON: NES, 1990 TASTES LIKE: Castlevania
Allow me to read you the game's thrilling backstory straight from the manual:
"After hundreds of years of chaos, mankind has finally emerged from the ruins of nuclear war. This world of the distant future has once again flourished under the guidance of the Great King, who harnessed the power of the 8 Eyes to rebuild the planet."
The team at Thinking Rabbit did something that, to use the proper industry verbiage, is known as "making shit up as you go along." None of this is mentioned in-game. By all appearances, the game takes place during the 19th century. We are supposed to believe that the nuclear fallout has eradicated all evidence of technological progress made just prior to the war. There are no remnants of that age. What we find are animated skeletons and vicious man-eating bats that we are told are mutants born of the nuclear waste that once covered the land.
Really? Is it that much of a stretch to say that these monsters were given life through black magic? Magic is present throughout the game. Does it really need justification? Are children's minds incapable of accepting the fantastic as is? Or is it because no one reads manuals anyway that the writers decide to have a little fun?
It reminds me of the manual for the NES port of Metal Gear. Remember that shit? The Outer Heaven takeover was orchestrated by Muammar Gaddafi... I'm sorry, Vermon CaTaffy, a shepard-turned-dicator who grew up with 27 sisters. Since the revelation of Big Boss as the true mastermind came towards the end of the game, I could probably buy this story as the original mission briefing meant to mislead Solid Snake. However, this CaTaffy is mentioned once again in the manual for the US-developed pseudo-sequel Snake's Revenge as if no one was paying attention.
The guys who were paid to come up with this slop must have been the star pupils in their creative writing classes... in the second grade, but I digress.
Back to the story, the King's eight Dukes want to rule the world as thus steal the 8 Eyes for their own nefarious purposes. You are Orin the Falconer, charged with retrieving the 8 Eyes from the Dukes' manors in such post-apocalyptic locales as Spain, Egypt, and India. Funny, you wouldn't think that the remnants of a civilization lost to the ages would not only remember and maintain the geographic divisions of pre-war nations but also the architecture of those countries' respective cultures circa 1890. Odd how that works out.
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
The architecture is familiar in more ways than one. The sprite work mimics that of the Castlevania series quite closely. From the bricks on the floor, walls, and steps to the gothic backgrounds and supernatural spectres, you may often mistake your surroundings for the eerie halls of Dracula's stronghold. The sprite for Orin even looks like Simon Belmont in his Simon's Quest apparel.
Whereas Simon wields a whip of considerable range, Orin flicks a toothpick that is supposed to be a short sword. It's always a treat to play a game in which closing in for attack almost always ensures that you will take damage thanks to enemy "death touch." To escape injury, you have to do this dance in which you slide up to a baddie after its attack cycle is complete, stab once, then run away and hope that you haven't run away to the point where approaching it for a follow-up assault will land you just outside of that safety window. You may think ducking will help you, but every attack, including projectiles that ought to pass just over your head, will damage you.
Like Simon, Orin has a selection of sub-weapons that consume item power. In Castlevania item power is restored by collecting hearts, while in 8 Eyes it's restored by collecting crosses. The manual even refers to them as "crosses" which is odd considering Nintendo's policy at the time to censor religious iconography. Anyway, these crosses power weapons such as the Molotov Cocktail (essentially Holy Water that could barely light a match), the boomerang, and the gun. Ooh, is this proof of an advanced era of weaponry? Please. It looks like a modern handgun in the manual but more like a percussion pistol in the game.
Unlike Simon, Orin has a travel companion, the falcon Cutrus. Cutrus can be released at any time and commanded to dive bomb enemies at your behest. When unleashed, it flies back and forth from one side of the screen to the other, so should you miss an attack opportunity you either have to wait for it to do its rounds or recall it and send it back out. Cutrus also has its own health bar for added inconvenience. I don't know why you should be forced to monitor its vitals since it isn't likely that the bird will fall in battle. In my entire playthrough, Cutrus only died once and I couldn't have been more relieved.
But you are forced to use it. Certain enemies are only harmed by its talons, which confused me the first time I encountered one. Aside from attacking, it can pick up items that escape your reach. Like in Castlevania, certain bricks can be broken, unveiling power-ups, but many such bricks are lodged deep within walls and out of range of your sword (and really, what isn't in this game?). Who should save the day then but Cutrus and its ability to phase through solid objects. Ultimately, the falcon is an unnecessary concern in the single-player adventure. However, there is a co-op mode in which player two gains full control over the bird's flight and attack, but who really wants to play as the stupid bird?
Seven castles are laid out on a stage select screen while the final one is only opened once the others have been conquered. Now... get this... according to the manual, defeating a boss gives you a new sword which is only effective against one other boss, sorta like Mega Man. However, the swords bestow no new power nor do they make normal enemies any easier to defeat. A new sword automatically replaces your old one, so unless you hit the castles in the correct order you will be in big trouble. All the problems you have fighting low-level grunts with a short-ass sword and a dumbass parakeet are magnified ten-fold during boss encounters. The best part is that death sends you reeling back to the stage select screen. Ha ha.
But wait! The manual gives you a hint! "The sword you start with is weak and only good for a country near France." That can apply to either Spain or Germany. I chose Germany. It was a 50-50 chance and I made the wrong choice. I kept getting my ass handed to me, forcing me to plod through the castle repeatedly... and Orin plods, that's another carryover from Castlevania. I would always reach the boss chamber with a sliver of health left, allowing me no opportunity to brute force my way through the German bastard's spinning shurikens of doom. After one too many failures, I turned to the ever helpful GameFAQs and learned that, oh, I should have gone to Spain first. How stupid of me. Tee hee.
The levels themselves are straightforward A-to-B affairs with the exception of Germany and Africa. Those two are mazes of the Super Mario Bros. variety. Know what I'm talking about? Unless you travel through the correct doors, up and down the correct sets of stairs, and into the correct pits, all in the correct sequence, you will just loop and loop until you give up from exhaustion. What clues are you given? Why, none at all. You have to jump in the first pit, go down the stairs that takes you back to the same room, jump into the pit in that room to take you the same room again, then jump into that same pit once again in order to advance to the next room, but at some point you will return to that first room and think that you have screwed up some order when in fact you are on the right path and fuck up the whole thing andhavetostartalloveragainandyoufeellikeatooland...
I whisked myself to the last level, the House of Ruth, which does the boss rematch thing that everyone loves so much. You are given full health and item power after every match, a necessity considering that the precious level order you guessed through constant trial and error (or discovered via walkthrough) in order to use the appropriate sword against the appropriate Duke means nothing when every boss from here on in has no weakness. And yes, dying at any point in this gauntlet will send you back to the beginning. Then, like a cherry on top of a bullshit à la mode, you discover you can avoid the final boss's attacks by ducking whereas there is not a single other enemy in this game, boss or otherwise, against which this strategy is effective. Wundervoll.
The game doesn't quite end once Ruth has been defeated. You received one of the 8 Eyes from each Duke and now must place them on pedestals in the correct order and the game will not end unless you do so. You can either guess the correct order (there are only 40,320 possible combinations!), or you could have found the hidden clue scrolls in each of the previous levels. Oh? Didn't you remember to collect them? I hope you did, because you can't return to conquered stages. Oopsie.
What awaits you once you set the 8 Eyes in the right slots? A SECOND QUEST! Yippee! Faster enemies! Yahoo! Hell no! I punched in the password to take me right to the pedestal room of the second quest and set down the 8 Eyes in the same order (it never changes, thank God), and I was rewarded with... a third quest. Holy shit. You serious? Password. Pedestals. Ordered sequence. Final final message:
"VERY IMPRESSIVE! I truly thought that no mere mortal would ever be reading the statement here, at the end of the third quest of 8 Eyes. You have reached the end of this game. I give my deepest congratulations to one who has beaten one of the most challenging games seen on the home video screen. Thank you, and look for more extremely challenging games from your favorite game masters TAXAN!!!"
Oh, I love these fourth-wall shenanigans. These guys at Taxan, who by the way was the US publisher and is therefore taking credit for a game it did not make, have the gall to call this one of the most challenging games of all time and to wear that fact like a fucking badge of honor. No, I do NOT look forward to anything else you guys will spew out. Why on God's green Earth would you think anyone would favor you over other far more talented companies? Do you get your rocks off on this brand of doucebaggery?
This is not a fun game. Could you tell that? Nothing about this is worth your time. At first I thought it would share more than a passing similarity to Castlevania, but after ten seconds of play it became apparent that this was something far more sinister than your average clone. How could anyone stomach playing these levels over and over after the umpteenth death animation? In what way does this game hint at any smidgen of fun? My God, not even the demo play makes this look exciting! You wait a few seconds on the title screen for the video to run and... Orin just stands there! Yes, the fucker just stands there! How exciting! It's a game where you stand still! Make him jump or crouch or do the moonwalk or something!
How am I supposed to believe that the world is in danger when after you defeat the bosses you sit down with them for tea? TEA TIME!? Yes! You beat a boss and get treated to a cut scene with Orin and the Duke you supposedly murdered, the Duke who holds 1/8 of the balance of Earth, sitting down at a dining table as a fucking skeleton butler serves you drinks on saucer plates. The same thing happens after you beat Ruth, too. Is there some unspoken code of honor at work here? Am I supposed to be threatened by these clowns? Besides, do you think that after the Bullshit 500 I had to run just to get here that tea and fucking crumpets is going to make everything all better?
That Nintendo Seal of Quality can bite my ass.
THE JAWSOME SCALE OF THOSE OTHER ADOLESCENT MUTANTS: