Nemesis (Game Boy) review
"Don’t get it twisted. Nemesis is a remixed, scaled down Gradius, plain and simple. You fly from left to right and fire on everything in sight, encountering weaklings flying in formation, Moai heads literally spitting out Cheerios, and giant ships that move up and down firing sliver-like lasers for you to squeeze between. Konami/Ultra have down an admirable job here, making Nemesis one of the best shooters available for on-the-go killing sprees. "
Don’t get it twisted. Nemesis is a remixed, scaled down Gradius, plain and simple. You fly from left to right and fire on everything in sight, encountering weaklings flying in formation, Moai heads literally spitting out Cheerios, and giant ships that move up and down firing sliver-like lasers for you to squeeze between. Konami/Ultra have down an admirable job here, making Nemesis one of the best shooters available for on-the-go killing sprees.
The story from the box is hilarious, so I have included a snippet:
As chief of the Interplanetary Police, you thought you put evil King Nemesis behind bars for good. But, fresh out of the Solar Slammer on a technicality, he's just put a billion dollar bounty on your head.
I could continue, but the cheese only gets stickier. Buckle up in the Proteus 911 and show these aliens that might makes right!
Despite bungling the box and manual with kitsch-laden text, Konami has done pretty much everything right. You’ve heard of their undying franchise, Castlevania? If you’ve not heard the tunes from those games themselves, you’ve likely heard the hullabaloo raised in their wake. Konami has some very talented composers, and they have taken the original Gradius soundtrack, already an impressive collection of songs, and changed them up slightly. Despite the limitations of the GameBoy from an audio standpoint, this game was worthy of plugging the headphones in and listening with the volume up.
Nemesis also looks brilliant. Everything is quite detailed on the small screen and there is less blurring than you might expect with a shooter (besides playing it on the toilet, I played it on the Super GameBoy, and doing so only confirmed how tight the package is graphically).
The first level introduces the aforementioned weaklings flying in formation. As is the Gradius trademark, destroying the entire formation, as well as destroying certain other enemies, earns you a power up that you can allocate as you see fit. Two power ups can ‘buy’ you two speed increases (you’ll need them, Gradius games feel lethargic if you don’t have at least three speed increases applied to your ship) or, alternatively, two power ups can buy you the ability to drop missiles on earth-entrenched foes (though there’s nothing earthly about them). Higher on the power up price scale are a dual stream gun, a powerful laser, friendly firing orbs, and a shield, in that order. Only the speed increases, missiles and the orbs allow multiple purchases (the missiles can be powered up twice, the second time providing a faster rate of firing, and two orbs can be earned).
Giddy midboss music will greet you near the end of level one, as a pair of volcanoes erupt, somewhat menacingly. The STANDARD GRADIUS BOSS will then appear, moving vertically and firing. A nice warping effect shows him dissipating, off to the scrap yard for the umpteenth time.
Stage two has circle-shaped enemies warp out of space, onto the screen. The music here is great; it’s reminiscent of the excellent score from Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, also by Konami. Pulsing tumours bulge out of spine-like walls while enemy ship dispensers clutter those same surfaces like alien haystacks. Foes resembling sunny-side-up eggs float carelessly into your path. There is no single midboss here—instead we are treated to more of those warping circles, but now they fill the entire screen. Without a shield, or at least an orb to assist you, this becomes inordinately difficult for so early on. The massive “V” shaped boss cruises into view firing craggy, scaled waste, making it a task to crack the womb-like center at the junction of the “V”.
When you notice Moai heads abound, you will know for certain that you’re playing a Gradius game. The third stage is full to the brim with them. Some lie flat on the walls, spitting up, while others have their ‘heads up’. Don’t allow their ring projectiles hit you - they’re not life preservers. Amidst all the heady madness, the odd formation of fools will still make ‘fly bys’ to hamper your progress. The midboss will begin life as a bouncing, careening Circle of Doom, before splitting up into four even more obstinate orbs. Burrowing crafts will burst forth from the rocky walls to complicate matters further still. The awesome-looking dragon-head ship (the best-looking GameBoy shooter boss?) will try to ram you - put his eye out.
Venture through a dinosaur graveyard, bothered by flying rocks, spirited by the best the amazing score has to offer. The skeletons of Triceratops lie still while the skulls of some species of large carnivore rise for an ill-fated return from the ages. Things get a bit tricky here; one such carnivore head fills a narrow vertical passage like a piston filling a cylinder, and you must time things right, lest your skeleton join in littering the lost landscape. A group of comical, leaping, giant robots will entertain you at the conclusion to level four, but they aren’t a laughing matter if you find yourself unprepared. The tank-like boss rises and presents the neck of its turret as both its strength and its weakness.
The fifth phase features R-Type-like corridors with structures jutting out inconsiderately. These are the halls you and your foes find yourselves at odds in. Even more R-Type-like are the floating, metallic structures (read: fancy rectangles) that crowd your path and threaten to block your egress. Make it through all of this, and face Nemesis himself.
The game will prompt you to do it all again, from the beginning, only this time at the “B” difficulty. You can choose this level of frustration from the option screen at the onset, along with up to 99 men. You may even find 99 men to be insufficient for the B mission - suffice to say you’ll need your “A” game. It’s that much harder. Shooter vets and sadists alike should give it a go because “A” will present very little challenge after a few plays; beating this shooter on one ship is the rule, rather than the exception.
On the ramped up difficulty level, foes that formerly just ‘got in your way’ will now fire at you without remorse. Even the feeble power up-bearing formations will show their teeth (albeit worn down molars). Good luck with this mission. The level select isn’t what the name suggests either; it’s more of a practice run at the stage of your choosing. You may start at level five, but upon clearing it, you won’t get the ending. No short cuts!
But with a game as enjoyable and intensely playable as Nemesis, there’s no call to finish things early (in fact, the only weakness to be found here is the shortness of the mission). This isn’t the kind of game that you'll want to rush through. You won’t look ahead to the end, you’ll be too engrossed, you’ll hum along, you’ll take Nemesis one kill at a time.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 10, 2003)
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