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Karnov (NES) artwork

Karnov (NES) review

"Whether Iím smirking at the sight of a macho circus strongman clad with a mermaidís tail during the underwater portions of the fifth stage or wondering just how a common boomerang can INSTANTLY kill an enormous dinosaur, Iím typically having a blast when Memory Lane takes me past this game."

Karnov doesnít contain the most likely of heroes Iíve ever controlled in my decades of video gaming. I canít say Iíd feel comfortable being alone in a room with a bald, obese circus strongman, yet alone depend on one to singlehandedly hunt down a three-headed dragon to rescue Babylonian treasures....even if he can emit fire! Personal prejudices aside, Iíve always been a fan of this NES cart, viewing it as one of the systemís more endearingly bizarre platformers.

Ported from the Data East arcade game of the same name, Karnov, takes the burly musclehead (named Jiborav Karnovsky, or ďKarnovĒ for short) through nine short, action-packed stages; many of which possess some attractive architecture. There are hordes of eclectic enemies, ranging from floating djinn and snake-like dragons to truly bizarre entries like exploding golden robots and bullet-spewing seaweed.

You wonít be empty-handed, though. Unlike most strong guys Iíve met, Karnov can toss fireballs (up to three at once) at his myriads of foes, which is enough to chop many enemies down before theyíve even had a chance to react. He also is able to utilize a ladder, a boomerang, bombs and a few other highly useful (and in many cases, necessary) items.

Early in the game, itís likely youíll find the ladder the most useful of these tools. An item of unlimited uses (as long as you CLIMB down it, as opposed to jumping or falling off), its purpose is to allow you access to items too far off the ground for Karnov to reach by jumping. Since the big fellow isnít the most nimble NES protagonist, odds are this item will be in near-constant use after itís found. As the game goes on, though, other items become crucial to your success. Going up against a few bosses without the amazingly powerful boomerang is a near-suicidal proposition for most players, while not having collected a couple sets of wings by the eighth stage will prove to be a fatal mistake.

If youíre playing this game on the NES, youíll have one more advantage that fans of the arcade incarnation of Karnov donít get ó the ability to take multiple hits. In the arcade game, one unfortunate encounter with an enemy or projectile was lethal. In the home version, it takes two hits to kill Karnov, with the first merely causing him to turn a sickly shade of blue ó an affliction that can be cured by snagging a power-up gem.

Needless to say, being able to slip up once or twice WITHOUT necessarily getting sent to an early grave does a lot to make Karnov one fun game. Itís always been a pleasure for me to sprint through its quirky levels from time to time just to see the various sites. Whether Iím smirking at the sight of a macho circus strongman clad with a mermaidís tail during the underwater portions of the fifth stage or wondering just how a common boomerang can INSTANTLY kill an enormous dinosaur, Iím typically having a blast when Memory Lane takes me past this game.

Part of that has to do with the seemingly random way in which some monsters appear. Iíve played through Karnov countless times and still can only guess why monsters seemingly randomly appear in certain places. While some foes are triggered to appear as you move forward, others seem to pop up when you cross invisible ďtripwiresĒ on the screen. So, if youíre walking along and suddenly notice that knights are popping out of thin air and charging you from both the front and back, odds are you stepped on the right square to trigger their attack.

Itís less clear as to what influences the appearance of other foes. Sometimes when I use the ladder to get items at a certain point early in the third level, a snake-like dragon meanders onto the screen looking to make things tricky for me. Other times, nothing happens. If I take a certain path to reach the boss of the final level, odds are one of the gameís previous bosses will drop in to give me a tough fight ó but thatís not set in stone. This gives Karnov a certain degree of unpredictability that I donít see in every old-school platformer.

That randomness plays a big role in why Iíve never gotten tired of Karnov. Itís a fun game with some decent atmosphere and itís full of a bunch of interesting monsters, but certain aspects leave a lot to be desired. The hit detection can become questionable at times. When fighting the gameís first snake-woman boss, I suffered more than one hit from her fireballs although I never actually saw them collide with me. At times, it seemed as though the game was assuming that I wouldnít get out of the projectileís way and made the decision I was taking damage and that was that.

That snake-woman, as well as most of the other bosses, could have used a little sprucing up. With the first couple of baddies, all you have to do is kneel and shoot as fast as you can. After that, the main strategy with bosses is to hit the critter with your boomerang once or twice while dodging its fire. The final confrontation with the three-headed dragon is the only boss fight that actually requires any real technique or skill ó the rest are little more than average enemies on steroids.

Karnov has its share of quirks and annoyances, too. Thereís a room full of goodies in the fourth level that you have to bomb your way into. However, when youíve finally gotten there, youíll soon realize a good number of the items have scrolled off the screen and you canít get back to them. Also, itís possible to ďtripĒ enemy encounters repeatedly. In the fifth stage, there is an island full of items where youíll have one of many rematches with the first stageís boss. I triggered his appearance four or five times before finally getting all the goodies and moving back to the water.

Still, I have a soft spot for this game. While its quirkiness does get annoying at times, I find it to be Karnovís most endearing quality. Youíre controlling a pudgy Russian strongman in his quest to recover stolen Babylonian treasure ó even by the admittedly bizarre standards of old-school platformers, thatís definitely a top-of-the-line, canít-miss idea! Data East may not have made the perfect game to surround Karnovskyís mystique, but itís a fun diversion thatís still worth coming back to from time to time.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 13, 2006)

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

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