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Trojan (NES) artwork

Trojan (NES) review

"There's a pretty fun brawler in there - if you survive long enough to see most of it."

Many NES games released in the 80s were actually ports of older arcade games. Trojan is a good example of that. When I played it at my cousin's house (I myself was a Commodore 64 kid), I was unaware of the game's origins. To me, it was just a side-scrolling brawler featuring the difficulty you would expect from games of that era. Despite the name, and although the final boss is named Achilles, the game actually has nothing to do with the Trojan War. Instead, you're pitted against a gang in a post-apocalyptic future. Your weapons are a sword and a shield, because why not?

Trojan treads familiar ground, despite predating the likes of Double Dragon and Street Fighter by a year. You advance from left to right, through each of five scrolling stages. The d-pad is used to move left and right or to jump, while the A and B buttons slash your sword and raise your shield, respectively. The latter of those options isn't for show, either; though you can hack through standard enemies quickly, any of the eight bosses will last long enough that you must use a shield to block at the right time in order to survive long enough to learn their patterns. Your 8 hit points vanish quickly if you make mistakes, since you don't enjoy a brief period of invulnerability after taking a hit. Enemies can and will (gleefully) cut you down in an instant, if given the opportunity. The game was hard in the arcade and the NES port definitely pulls no punches, either.

The five levels you'll encounter are similarly true to the spirit of the arcade version, featuring familiar layouts and enemy placement, along with a fair approximation of each stage's music. The methods that work best against the various enemies, however, feel fairly different. In a truly unfortunate twist, the first pair of bosses you encounter, halfway through the opening stage, follow an inconsistent pattern that means there's no way to do things "right." They throw axes, which may be positioned either high or low, and they don't telegraph which one you should expect. A quick hack and slash might get you through in one encounter, but the next time around you might lose a life. Experience doesn't really alter that. After all these years, I still find that turtling is the best approach, advancing slowly and carefully until the enemies are backed into a corner and you can cut them down. In the process, though, you may take several axes to the face during those split-seconds you're undefended while moving forward.

The early encounter with that particular boss serves as a poor introduction to what is normally a fair system of combat. Most other bosses follow a well-defined pattern, from the heavily armored boomerang thrower, to the guy who rolls up into an invincible ball that you must jump over as he rolls left and right (slash him only when he briefly stands up to breathe fire). Then there is the sword wielder who is an exact AI copy of your own warrior, daring you to find the weakness in his shield blocking pattern. My main complaint is that you're given so little time to learn their weaknesses, thanks to how quickly you die if you don't react properly. And once those precious 3 lives are gone, the game ends. There are no continues, my friend! Back in the day, I had to use a Game Genie to triple my life meter and buy myself extra time to learn how to handle the boss patterns (the random mooks in between rarely pose a threat). Eventually, I was able to shed the training wheels and now I play normally. I beat the game that way again last night, even, so obviously the muscle memory remains.

Trojan is short. Once you know what you're doing, you can finish it within 10 minutes, which is how NES games tended to go. To its credit, the port does add a few things not found in the arcade original. You'll discover hidden rooms that contain bonuses like extra lives, as well as a power-up that doubles your attack power until you lose a life.

Another noteworthy feature is the two-player duel mode. Each player is equipped with a sword and shield, as well as the same move set, and from there they try to beat their opponent. I'd like to point out once again that Trojan predates both Double Dragon and Street Fighter. If there is an earlier NES game that took a similar approach, I can't name it.

Finally, it's also possible to lose your sword and shield temporarily, if you block the wrong kind of projectile. At that point, the A and B buttons suddenly correspond to kicks and punches. Fighting without the usual gear is more difficult, and you gain nothing as a reward, but the moment is entirely too cool for you to not produce it on purpose, at least every so often.

Trojan still offers me a healthy dose of nostalgia when I replay it today. I just wish it weren't as hard to get into as it is. That one early encounter with an atypically unfair boss is likely to turn most people away from the game before they have a proper chance to see what it truly has to offer. And that's a shame, because that other stuff is well worth seeing…

sashanan's avatar
Freelance review by Peter Butter (October 12, 2015)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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