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Image Fight (NES) artwork

Image Fight (NES) review

"There have been many shooters released on consoles. This is one."

Image Fight is one of those games. I bought it at a dollar store in the mid-90s and played it for a while. I picked it back up to review in my early days of churning out clumsily-written, sectioned reviews and I'm reviewing it again in 2020 -- 30 years after it was ported to the NES. And you know what? Despite my history with this game, I'm not sure I have anything all that interesting to say about it. And this time, I can't even blame myself for being lazy or having a case of writer's block or anything like that. The sad truth is that anything interesting about Image Fight is only in theory. The reality is a very different case.

In theory, this vertically-scrolling shooter should be interesting. It essentially takes place in two parts. First, you must successfully advance through five stages of vigorous training, being graded with an aggregate score of over 90 percent by whatever math Irem devised for these levels. Succeed in that task and you'll gain access to the final levels, where something big has happened and you'll have to use all your "fresh out of school" skills to save the universe or whatever. While flying through these levels, you'll get a wide variety of power-ups. Some add a new front end to your plane and give it new, superior firepower with the added benefit of allowing you to take damage. After obtaining one, being shot or grazing a wall simply means you'll lose it, but still be alive to fight -- just without those homing missiles, multi-directional fire or whatever else it might have provided. Others provide you with mini-ships to add additional firepower. Pick them up when they're blue and they'll shoot straight in front of you; nab red ones and they'll fire in the opposite direction of how you last pressed the control pad.

Image Fight screenshot Image Fight screenshot

All of this gives you a lot of versatility as far as your potential offensive output, which is good, as the game's stages are designed in ways that one particular load-out will never be sufficient. Enemies will come up from behind you or be tucked in out-of-the-way alcoves, so you won't be able to rely on simply blasting everything that appears in front of you. One particularly hellish level is loaded with weak, shootable obstacles and often forces you to blast through large sections of them while maneuvering left or right in order to not blunder into a wall. If you aren't capable of quickly blasting stuff both in front of you and to your sides, this will provide no shortage of frustration. Even one boss basically requires you to have some capacity to shoot behind you if you wish to cause anything resembling consistent damage to it.

That boss resides at the end of the fifth and final training stage. This stage also is -- with the exception of the final part of the final level -- about the only point when Image Fight looks remotely appealing. It has a sort of psychedelic background in a game where simply having a background is going to differentiate one level from the bulk. Simply put, this is a plain and drab port that doesn't even bother attempting to attract the eyes. Its first level is a fairly generic shooter stage where you start out flying over water and progress to a forest. If you've played a lot of shooters, you've seen a lot of stages like this and probably wouldn't consider them as even worth mentioning. Here, it's a highlight, as the vast majority of the game takes place over plain blue or black backgrounds with every bit of decoration being in the foreground.

Out of curiosity, I watched a YouTube video of this game's TG-16 port and while it was the same game, it seemed quite different. With actual backgrounds, each level seemed more vibrant and alive. Sure, that system was a bit more powerful, but I've played a lot of games on my NES and can definitely say that it is capable of handling background decorations. Not having them just makes this game seem like an afterthought rushed out the door as soon as it was functional.

Image Fight screenshot Image Fight screenshot

And it's hard for me to look at Image Fight as anything more than functional. Its eight levels are short enough that a skilled player can have this one completed in well under a half hour, meaning that all the offensive diversity winds up under-utilized. It just feels kind of weird to have five levels be your training, with only three involving the actual threat you're sent to exterminate. The boss fights generally are just sort of there, with few being notably fun or annoying.

That's Image Fight in brief. A game that's just sort of there, without being notably fun or annoying. If I were to sum up its positives, I'd mention how it has a lot of potentially fun aspects with its diverse weaponry and the need to make use of most of it at some point. If I were to sum up its negatives, I'd simply say that the game's levels aren't nearly interesting enough to inspire me to want to truly delve into those positives. It's a game that exists and playing it isn't a miserable experience, but it's not the sort of thing that will inspire you to regularly dust off the old Nintendo. Unless you're like me, that is, and you're still looking for something interesting to say about a game that has defied all your efforts for multiple decades!


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (May 29, 2020)

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

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