Not only did Data East make an awesome Avengers beat-em-up
that sort of reveled in its own mediocrity, they ported it to NES like so many other classics. Except "port" isn't the right word; it's an entirely different game. In a time where multi-generation, multi-plat games are just watered down versions of the same thing (or beefed up versions, depending on your view), multi-gen games that were released in the twilight years of the NES and the early years of the 16-bit onslaught were often entirely different games. This is something I'll be looking at eventually, especially the curious case of Batman Returns
And let's face it - at this point, in 1992 (a year after the arcade game hit greasy pizza joints and mall arcades everywhere), the NES isn't so hot anymore. Sega's hype campaign for the Genesis is in full blast, and the SNES is soon to challenge it. The NES is just so Janet Jackson
, man - this is 1992 and the year of Boyz II Men
Which is sort of a shame because Data East's NES - we'll call it adaptation - of Captain America and the Avengers
is an entirely serviceable game, and I don't mean that ironically or nostalgically. It's pretty standard NES fare - that old standby, the action-platformer - but like the arcade game, its attention to detail is pleasing, and it plays well.
Iron Man and Vision are down for the count. The game opens with a map, not so unlike Bionic Commando
. As Cap or Hawkeye, you take a superheroic road trip across the US in hopes of stopping various Avengers villains. Each starts off at two different points of the map, and beating the other's level will allow them to move as a team, after which they can be swapped in and out at any time.
This is the central crux of the game, because unlike, say, the first TMNT game on NES, Cap and Hawkeye play quite differently. The fact that they feel like two very full-fledged playing styles is key to the game's success. There are situational instances that require one or the other's skill set; but otherwise, you're free to play with whomever you like. Cap has mobility - he can hang from bars and has a special dash attack. His shield goes through walls and is generally more powerful - but he can only throw it when standing, and in one direction. When holding his shield, it makes for - well, an actual shield against bullets, and he can use it to float in water or poison.
Hawkeye, on the other hand, cannot hand from bars, and has no way of getting across water (though in a strange little change from the norm, water doesn't kill or even hurt). His arrows are generally weaker, and they can't go through environmental objects - but he can shoot them while crouching, or in the air, and he can aim up and diagonal. All of which gives him a precision that Cap lacks. I love to see this kind of thing in games - characters who aren't different enough to fundamentally change the rules of the game, but are different enough to keep things fresh.
It's a lovely looking game - as an NES game released in 1992 should be - sound effects are noticeably in good form, and like the arcade game, the music is choice. Beyond that, though, the game just feels right
. Platforming is smooth and the physics never leave you feeling cheated; taking an enemy out with a well-aimed arrow or Cap's dash attack is simply satisfying.
Which is good, because you'll be fighting the same two enemies for most of the game: dudes with guns and dudes with rocket launchers. Each character can be upgraded with crystals, dropped from little wall pockets (think candles in Castlevania or lanterns in Ninja Gaiden). More health; exploding arrows; a wider shield throw radius. Which is neat until you realize that those two enemies you keep fighting are getting stronger as well, and eventually powering up no longer feels like a reward for diligent crystal-grabbing, but rather a necessity for survival.
And it's easy to miss the crystals because the levels aren't all linear; most of them take place in big warehouses (I think?), where your main goal is to hunt down the exit key and find the exit. It's a nice change of pace from typical left-to-right platforming action, but again, repetition is a ghastly thing. Cap and Hawkeye each have their own themes, which are surprisingly great; but that's all you'll hear for the majority of the game.
Eventually you will die - or one of your Avengers will, anyway. The remaining Avenger will then need to backtrack through every stage
and beat his original level to get him back on your team. It's an absurd and frustrating decision that nearly ruins the game. You eventually unlock the Quinjet, which lets you skip over cities - at the end of the game. Uh, what?
It might be mentioned there is no save feature, and there is no password system, and that this is not precisely a short game. It's a damn shame, because they got much of the game right - including the bosses. Wizard toys with you offscreen, shooting out the lights; Crossbones fights in a room full of deathtraps, while Ultron lowers your platforms closer and closer to the poisonous rubble below. In the end, Red Skull uses the power of the crystals - the same ones you've been collecting - to transform into some Super Skull. That crystal bit was a curious touch, the only reference in the game or story to the crystals that you've been collecting. I kind of like the reversal, actually.
You don't read much about this game - again, late NES release, and it's overshadowed by its notoriously-translated arcade brethren. It's worth playing, though, if only to wonder what might have been. With Game Genie codes and a quick save state finger, of course. But hey, don't take my word for it - the game did end up in Nintendo Power's top 10 NES games of 1992.
While Data East developed the arcade game, the competent Genesis port, and this little NES gem, those cruel men at Realtime Associates created an entirely new game (again, we'll call it an adaptation) for Game Boy and Game Gear. These are the same people who made that abysmal SNES port of the arcade game, so you know nothing good is coming.
First thing: it's neither a platformer nor a beat-em-up. It's strictly limited to two planes of movement, with the odd caveat that the backgrounds have
that slightly tilted beat-em-up look... but nope, you're moving left or right, Avenger.
Another thing: the game is exactly the same on Game Boy and Game Gear. The latter is superior simply by virtue of visibility.
Yet another thing: it takes much more influence from the arcade game than the NES. It's actually sort of impressive how slavish they are in the levels - they're designed more for the gameplay, but they feature the exact same enemies and animation (as best as a Game Boy could replicate, anyhow), the same levels, nearly the same boss placement, the same text and chapter breaks - even the same music. Like the arcade version, all characters are playable - and again, all are the exact same.
And another thing: this game has some of the worst hit detection I've ever experienced. Getting in close is sure to send you flying back, but your ranged attacks are incredibly weak. Your only hope is the jump kick, which requires you to press the jump button twice and is quite finnicky. Truly a miserable experience of heroic proportions.
One more thing
: I paid thirty hard-earned allowance dollars for the Game Boy version back in the day. Even then it was a disappointment, but there was a weird satisfaction in knowing that I owned three very different versions of the same game.
Yep, another Captain America game by Data East. The last one, I promise.
All in-game screenshots are my own; NES and Game Boy box art courtesy of Gamefaqs.