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Amagon (NES) artwork

Amagon (NES) review

"Amagon is a laborious run ‘n gun adventure with little to nothing to justify the workman-like experience. It’s so much easier to just call it a “waste of time.”"

Amagon asset

The process for taking most ill-begotten NES titles to task is very simple. All you need to do is point out the obviously poor play mechanics. It’s difficult to disagree with stiff control response or broken platformer elements, both of which are rampant in most titles that are often torn to shreds. Now and then you’ll come across a title that has neither, yet you know in your bones that it’s dreadful. Yeah, this is where I introduce the minimalist run ‘n gun title Amagon.

There’s no complexity to the game. You take the role of the frail adventurer Amagon as you run to the right, shoot animals, and try not to touch any. This continues until the screen stops scrolling, at which point the level ends. Slain beasts drop items that boost your finite bullet supply and increase your score. Unlike most games from the NES era, scoring points isn’t about bragging and feeling studly. One power up that appeared from time to time depicts a muscular manbeast showing off his twin guns. Nab that and hit ‘Select’ and your scrawny gingerkid protagonist morphs into the muscle-bound monstrosity, Megagon. Transforming depletes some of your score, exchanging certain point amounts for health. The higher your score, the more health Megagon gets. From there you need only run to the right and mash the ‘B’ button to shatter the brittle skeletons of any passing creatures. Your only concern is enemy projectiles, which are difficult to dodge when you take up a third of the screen vertically.

Sound thrilling? Of course not. It’s basically Wonderboy, Contra, and Altered Beast in a blender, except not nearly as entertaining as any of them.

Amagon assetAmagon asset

Right off the bat, the game is pretty vanilla. Many of the levels are straightforward gauntlets filled with cartoony animals and basic platforming scenes. There’s little rhyme or reason behind a level’s design. It’s like the developers sketched a slew of platformer cliches on paper lots and drew them from a hat, with maybe ten to twenty of them making up a level. Included are the typical staircase-like platforms, floating objects, and basic pitfalls, junk we’ve seen many times before and after.

Platforming wasn’t meant to be this game’s bread and butter, though, so the banality in that department is forgivable. What this game really wanted you to do was survive the animal onslaught. You can’t very well do so while giant spiders fall from trees, maniacal birds zip at you, anthropomorphic elephants sneeze white balls of death, and hungry pteranodons dive to snack on you. If you were hoping for a wild romp filled with rapid shooting and gun upgrades, prepare for disappointment. You can only fire in one direction at a moderate pace. That’s good enough for a some of the enemies, but many of them require you to jump and fire, and you need to be spot on when nailing them. Fail to kill a speeding bird and it’ll slam into Amagon’s frail frame and kill him instantly. Unlike Megagon, Amagon doesn’t have a life bar.

Amagon kicks up the difficulty as you advance by sending larger groups of enemies, many of which swoop in at awkward angles. Others take a dozen or so shots to drop, giving them ample time to pounce on you. Learning to effectively deal with each new situation takes practice and patience. You have to wait and react, traipsing carefully through each level and considering your next move. Such learning works great when there’s a little forgiveness involved (i.e. continues, passwords, etc.). However, you only get three lives without a single continue. Make one minute mistake and you pay a huge price for it.

This sort of patience-based challenge doesn’t mesh well with run ‘n gun gameplay. Where we would hope for an action-packed romp, we’re now stuck with a title rife with tip-toeing and extra careful. Where’s the excitement in that?

You could make an effort in each stage to nab the Megagon power up. That would greatly simplify things and make the game more action-packed. However, now we’ve reduced the game to attacking repeatedly and performing basic jumps occasionally. Let’s face it: the Megagon feature isn’t that interesting. All it does is subtract the shooting aspect and turn the game into a dull side-scrolling brawler. Even with as easy as Megagon makes the game, it still doesn’t guarantee victory. If you transform with too few points, then you won’t have a whole lot of health. You’ll change back to Amagon after a minute or two, usually at really bad times. Sometimes you’ll find yourself trapped in a hairy situation that would have required Megagon, and that’s when you’ll realize you wasted the transformation and are well and truly screwed.

A frustration factor like this isn’t inherently a bad thing. It all depends on payoff. Usually, games like this reward player with memorable challenges. Amagon certainly has a few, most of which revolve around decent boss battles. Although the road to get there was a hassle, I still enjoyed battling the third boss. I arrived at a massive waterfall; the kind you know is home to something terrible. A pair of eyes stared at me from behind the cascade and began lobbing projectiles my way. Even playing as Amagon, the battle was doable, and actually quite enjoyable. The projectiles kept me on my toes while I fired choice shots at the eyes. Just when I thought I had killed the mystery beast, the screen went black. The waterfall dissipated and revealed the creature’s true form--a humongous crazed hippopotamus with mighty tusks. Summoning the most of my platforming and shooting skills, I was able to weave around this guy’s projectiles and continue my assault of potshots. After a drawn battle, I felled the beast and advanced to the next stage with a sigh of relief.

Amagon asset

I wish I could say there were more scenes like this. There are a few that are enjoyable, hearkening back to games like Mega Man with falling platforms. All in all, though, there’s almost nothing interesting. If you’re not performing basic jumps, you’re engaged in ho-hum combat or trying to survive another frustrating barrage of beasts. By the time you get to most of the bosses, you should have a Megagon transformation on board. Right there you’ve taken the strategy out of the battle, and can beat even the final boss by just powering through him. Then it all culminates in an anti-climax and a return to the title screen.

Put all of that together: Amagon is a laborious run ‘n gun adventure with little to nothing to justify the workman-like experience. It’s so much easier to just call it a “waste of time.” Sure, its mechanics are solid, level designs are serviceable, and its core concept could amount to something, given proper planning and development. What we have instead is a struggle from one frustrating scene to the next with only a few areas that are of any interest.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 16, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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