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Shatterhand (NES) artwork

Shatterhand (NES) review


"I feel I dodged a crushing uppercut by not getting this game as a child."


While I'm sure that one could say this about most any era of video games, for me, the time of the NES seemed most loaded with those games that looked good on paper, but were mediocre in reality. Every month, my copy of Nintendo Power would come in the mail and I'd see any number of games ranging from "must get" to "looks good". Since I was mostly reliant on what my parents decided I could have, I'd have to be pretty choosy with my requests and STILL snagged a dud here and there. Such is life -- no matter how careful one is, they will always have to occasionally be confronted by the horrid specter of unmet expectations.

Would it have been great to simply be able to snap my fingers and get whatever I wanted whenever I desired it? On the surface, sure. In reality, that'd have probably led to me becoming bitter and overly sarcastic many years before that actually happened. Instead of playing good game after good game with a few mediocre-to-bad ones thrown in, things would get skewed to an unbearable degree as instead of regularly replaying those old games I truly loved, I'd be jumping from one blah offering to another, vainly hoping the next one would actually live up to the potential I perceived it as having from those magazine screenshots.

For example, if I had unlimited spending power when I was growing up, I know I'd have wound up with Shatterhand fairly quickly after seeing its Nintendo Power feature. I remember that game as being barely outside my "must get" list for some time. If I could get two games for my birthday, it was my third choice; if it was three games for Christmas, it ranked fourth. The sad, sordid tale of "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" for this unfortunate Jaleco cartridge. But now, as a self-sufficient adult, I have spent a lot of time trying to right those old wrongs, even though the end result winds up forgettable more often than not.

Don't get me wrong -- Shatterhand isn't some bottom-of-the-barrel game that leads into me cracking jokes about how the dude in charge of placing those Nintendo Official Seal of Quality icons on the box wasn't paying attention when this one came through the assembly line. It's reasonably fun and perfectly competent in design, but it's also a short game with no real defining characteristic other than how, like many NES games, it gets extremely difficult at times.

After doing an easy introductory stage, you're already one-seventh of the way through the game. Of the other six, five can be tackled in any order, with the final stage being immediately unlocked after those are all completed. In other words, the Mega Man formula, but without all the neat bells-and-whistles that made those games so addictive that old games in that series still get re-released, while new ones still hit the market every few years. While one might confuse a level in a particular Mega Man game with one in another, each level in a particular game stands apart from the others. Here, you'll travel through one dingy base after another. It's only been a few days since I've played this game and all I can really remember about its levels is that one had a couple areas where gravity was reversed and there were extensive fire pits in another.

While the weapon system is neat, it feels horribly misused. As you might guess from a game called Shatterhand, your primary attack is a powerful punch capable of flattening normal enemies and at least damaging powerful ones, such as each level's boss. By punching treasure boxes, one thing that might appear is a symbol that can be punched to change to a second one. Collect three symbols and you'll summon a bot possessing one of many powers. Depending on what combination of symbols you gathered, your bot might wield a sword, exhale a stream of fire or shoot globes that bounce off walls until colliding with something or leaving the screen. And, if you can collect the same group of three symbols twice in a row, you'll become an unstoppable force capable of firing extremely damaging bullets for a short period of time.

Pretty cool, huh? In theory. Spend a bit of time with this game and you'll quickly discover that not having the bot greatly cripples your hero, as the levels seemingly are designed assuming you'll not only have it, but also possess one of its handier long-range powers, such as those bouncing globes. Several enemies are content to shoot bullets at you from a distance, while others are too durable to fall under a couple punches and will keep moving forward until you've suffered collision damage. From the instant you've obtained your bot, you'll be endeavoring to keep it alive as long as possible because you're essentially a shadow of yourself without it. That's easier said than done, as it might have good weaponry, but is completely lacking in survival instinct. The stupid thing does nothing but hover around your head, often bouncing over directly into an enemy to take damage until one or the other has been destroyed. When it turns orange and starts blinking, you'll know that unless you're one symbol away from getting a new bot, you're in trouble. When it's gone, you'll simply be hoping against hope you can survive long enough to get another one.

Regardless of how long or short the game's stages are, they'll seemingly take an eternity to complete because, in order to keep your bot alive as long as possible, you'll be moving at a snail's pace. Unlike similar NES games, enemies don't constantly re-spawn here, so you'll be creeping forward a couple steps to take out an enemy or two and occasionally moving backwards if they're capable of absorbing a few shots. Oh, and enemies only drop money instead of power-ups or health replenishers. To access any of those things, you'll have to have a certain amount of cash on hand and then kneel on certain platforms to spend it on increased punch power, a refill of your health bar or an extra life.

I mean, Shatterhand does have some cool stuff in it. A few of the bosses are fun and often-challenging encounters; in particular a tough opponent capable of many damaging attacks such as swinging his sword to create tough-to-avoid waves of fire on the ground. The action can be fun at times if you have the right version of the bot for a particular area. But when push comes to shove, this is simply a competent game that didn't have what it took to still be a thing today like Mega Man. Hell, I don't know that I'd even put it on the same level as Power Blade.

If you play it, it's easy to see why. It's a game that is somewhat fun, but gets tiring after awhile because one stage blends into the next, your default attack is so underwhelming that you essentially need your sub-weapon to be operational to not feel neutered and it's a short game that somehow feels overly long due to how cautious you'll likely be in order to keep that sub-weapon in one piece. I found it easy to get into Shatterhand, but after playing it for a little while, I also found it extremely tough to maintain interest in it. It might have looked intriguing when I first saw it in Nintendo Power, but it didn't take long for me to realize just why it faded into obscurity shortly after its release.

2/5

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (October 19, 2018)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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honestgamer posted October 19, 2018:

So... we both were enticed in the game's direction by game magazines, and we both were ultimately underwhelmed when we played the game years after the fact. This is as close as we will ever come to being blood brothers!
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overdrive posted October 19, 2018:

Probably Nintendo Power, too, right? Because they made it look like a million bucks. I noticed when checking to see if this one had a staff review, that you did one and, rating-wise, had a similar experience.

But, yeah, to say I was disappointed would be a bit of an understatement. I was expecting a really good game and got something that was more along the lines of "it was a game...I played it".
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 25, 2018:

Same. I developed the urge to play this one after reading about it in a magazine as well, and man was I disappointed. I don't remember if it was Nintendo Power or not. I came very close to getting this one a couple of times, but ended up with something else instead. I didn't actually get around to playing it until I was in college.

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