Monday, December 19, 2011

On this, the penultimate step to my becoming:
Silver Surfer I went in expecting the ultimate potency of NES's Silver Surfer to shrivel my gonads and instantly turn all my hair grey. Released by Arcadia Systems in 1990, Silver Surfer is lauded by many as the most difficult game ever produced for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Similar to Konami's Life Force, Silver Surfer is a space shooter, which alternates between overhead and side-scrolling levels.  Unlike Life Force, Silver Surfer is packed with near-unavoidable one-hit-deaths, baddies who eat bullets like candy and confusing background/foreground sprites.

I think the Angry Video Game Nerd said it best:
"Silver Surfer... silver shit."

Retinal Burn
The image currently floating
though my field of vision.
The gameplay opens with a Mega Man-style Stage Select screen. I played every stage. I died many times. When asked to enter my initials for a high score, I rebelliously wrote 'A$$.' It got to the point where Morose Silver Surfer (your reward for dying) burned into my very retinas. For a being imbued with the Power Cosmic, there's a lot of shit that can kill the Silver Surfer. It would seem Arcadia Systems decided Hemophilia and Osteoporosis are side effects of the Power Cosmic, because EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH KILLS YOU. EVEN RUBBER DUCKIES.

This here? This is where you live.
But then a wonderful thing happened. I found a sweet spot at the bottom of Reptyl's level. I collected some power-ups (F's strengthen your bullets, B's give screen-clearing Bombs and Spinning White Orbs provide additional bullet streams) and the enemies started to die with ease. Powered-up, I managed to beat the first section without dying once and came to a realization:

Without Power-Ups, Silver Surfer is Hard as Hell. With Power-Ups, Silver Surfer is Effing Easy.

The second section of Reptyl's stage switches to overhead. Powered-up, Silver Surfer fires not one, but three bullets which spread a la Contra's Spread Gun. In addition to offing baddies, your bullets also destroy other bullets. This means the Zeroth Rule of Fight Club Silver Surfer is (and it helps if you read this in Alec Baldwin's voice):

"ABF. A always B be F firing.  ALWAYS BE FIRING. "

Whoa, there.
Is that a surfboard or are you happy to see me?
Couched in the lower left and fully powered, Silver Surfer is near invulnerable. For some reason the end of this section forces you to kill Sea Turtles. I thought Silver Surfer was supposed to protect endangered life-forms, but hey--what do I know?
Section 3 (as all 3rd Sections are) is just an ante-room to the boss: a Lizard riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Fully-powered up, Reptyl didn't stand a chance. Since the (rather thin) plot of Silver Surfer revolves around your collecting parts of a Galactic Super Weapon, Silver Surfer strikes a bad-ass pose and collects his space-carburetor.

It's important to note that not all Stages of Silver Surfer are created equal. Reptyl, for example is by far the easiest of the five. By trial and error, I found the level difficulty, from Easiest to Hardest to be: Reptyl, Emperor, Posessor, Mephisto, Firelord. This level order is important because once you begin a stage, you MUST finish it, even if you die. There's no returning to the Stage Select screen. Going from easiest to most difficult allows a player to get used to the controls and difficulty of the game bit by bit.

Emperor of suckEMPEROR:
Section 1 is overhead, filled with gun turrets. Again, stay couched in the lower left as much as you can and only stray when absolutely necessary. Your three spread bullets should clear the way for you.
Section 2 side-scrolls and offers no real challenged to the Powered-up Surfer. Stay on top when possible and Always Be Firing.
I'm not clear on Silver Surfer Villains (apparently neither were Arcadia Systems), but I believe Emperor is Ruler of Planet Suck. He stands behind a wall of turrets while you blast him to hell. Literally no challenge at all.

The Pink and Black Attack is Back!
First: Possesor looks like a sprite-rip of Bret 'the Hitman' Hart. Right? Section 1 of Bret's Possesor's stage is side-scroll, and although the stage is peppered with bullet-shooting baddies, it isn't too difficult. Position your shooting powerup so it fires down, stay near the top of the screen and the drones won't come near you.

Section 2 switches to overhead and has a few elements which can be annoying as hell if you're not expecting them. First are the eyeballs which appear from nowhere and fly at you. If you're in the bottom 3rd of the screen, they shouldn't be an issue so be careful not to fly too far up. The other wrinkle comes at the VERY END--two spiky doors which close over the Surfer (killing him, of course) if you linger at the bottom of the screen. After defeating the eyeball and in the coliseum-type-thing, fly up!
Possessor himself is, again, mostly harmless. He hides behind a Titan-type thing that shoots ghost-sperm. Place yourself squarely in front of it and, like Weird Al, get Trigger Happy.

Firelord is the only stage in the game which is genuinely difficult. In most other levels, powered-up weapons make travel easy. Not here.
Firelord 1Section 1 is an overhead section where Silver Surfer can only travel over the brown areas. This makes for some tricky navigation. The baddies that emerge from the "water" are placed at tricky angles, requiring precision firing and control.
Firelord 1Section 2 is a side scroller, and unlike previous levels, there's no 'safe zone' at the top or bottom of the screen. Fire drips from the cielings and pumpkins (yes, pumpkins) fly up from the floor. Even with your guns blazing both down and across, this section requires extreme caution in the pumpkin sections.
Firelord 1Firelord's antechamber has birds and flames which fly in obtuse trajectories. They can be difficult to avoid, so ABF becomes very important. Firelord himself, though is a major push-over (Major Push-Over [salute]). At the back of the screen, none of the baddies or projectiles can fly to avoid your bullets. Fire away and get a picture of that sweet, silver bulge!

Mephisto 1
I ain't afraid of no ghosts. Oh, wait yes I am.
Where Firelord's stage was difficult due to level design, Mephisto's stage can be tricky due to its baddies. In side-scrolling Section 1, there are ghosts flying from doors. They swirl about and do a decent job of killing you. Stay as far away from the doors as possible.
Section 2 is peppered with the vanishing eyeballs from Possessor's stage and projectile-throwing Hands which cannot be destroyed.
Mephisto's ante-room is filled with sperm-looking things which multiply (and shoot) when you hit them. You really have to lay on the B button to get through this unscathed. Mephisto, like his fellow Bosses, is comparatively simple.

After defeating the 5 "Bosses," and still one distributor cap short of a complete Galactic Weapon, Silver Surfer gets the following memo from his boss, Lumberg Galactus:
Of course, the famous... Magik Domain??
Magik Domain 1
This level is genuinely difficult, both in design and baddie placement. Switching your bullet buddy between firing down and across is the key to traveling through Section 1 unscathed. If there's open space below you, fire down. If there's ground, fire both bullets across. It's essential Silver Surfer stay as far back AT ALL TIMES--baddies fly with such velocity that even at the back of the screen you will just only kill them before being killed yourself. If your thumb gets tired, seriously, pause for a minute. Always Be Firing!
Rock Lobster!
We Were at the Beach!
Everybody had Matching Towels!
Section 2 is a relatively short overhead stage. The only real challenges here are the spikes and the section boss. Much like Firelord's overhead stage, Section 2 of the Magik Domain requires precision navigation of the surfer to avoid giant spiked pillars which would otherwise kill you. There only real baddies here are Bubble Machines which shoot Bubbles (how is it someone with the Power Cosmic can get killed by an effing BUBBLE?). Avoiding the spikes and bubbles, the boss of this Section is a Rock Lobster (ski-do-dee-bop!).The Rock Lobster moves quickly, but in a set pattern. More Bubbles appear during the fight, but the only real danger is crashing into the Rock Lobster.
Grape Ape?Section 3 is short and littered with power-ups. If you're not on full weapons at the start, by the time you reach the final boss, you will be. Dispite the sprite in the lower left throughout the Magik Domain, Silver Surfer's Final Boss is Grape Ape with a Gun. There's a safe spot just above the level of his head, so the only real work here is dodging when Grape Ape charges. Honestly, I found the Rock Lobster a more challenging boss. Although Grape Ape takes a ton of damage to kill, the fight is easy--I managed to defeat him on my first try. With the Galactic Fuel Pump in hand, it's off to Galactus and a well-deserved ending.

I fully expected Silver Surfer to erode my will to live until I was just a slobbering shell of my former self.  Couples passing my park bench (and future house) would shake their doleful heads: "What Happened to him?" "He played Silver Surfer for NES." On the contrary, I actually enjoyed this game. Yes, the trial-and-error learning curve for Silver Surfer is equal parts tedious and frustrating, but with power-ups in hand, I felt the Power Cosmic flowing through my veins.
Controller Icon
NES MONSTER!Silver Surfer DOES NOT belong among the Top Ten Hardest NES Games of All Time. The only reason it gets Two Controllers of Impossibility is due to baddie placement which make death-avoidance difficult. Other than that, the game is a cakewalk. I spent more time on the first level of Ikari Warriors.

So, as Kenny Loggins would say, "This is it."
I'm going to take a break for the Holidays and ring in the new year with my final ascent on the mountain of NES Immortaility. January 2nd, 2012 -- it all ends. The mere thought makes me turn green.

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