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Crisis Force (NES) artwork

Crisis Force (NES) review

"Is Konami in their current CRISIS because they didn't bring this to America? I FORCE-fully say they are."

When it comes to video games being ported over to America or not, there are several factors that can play into that process. Possibly the most infuriating for me is when games don't make the list because they came out really late into a system's life cycle and aren't considered because the company is allocating its resources into the shiny, new system that's hitting the market and feel that releasing new games for the old hardware is a waste of resources.

It's not that I don't understand the logic -- I just think it's stupid. Over the years, designers learned all these methods to overcome system limitations and create games far more complex than they were initially releasing; but now that they've (in theory) achieved the pinnacle of what is possible for an older system, that stuff is unceremoniously discarded in favor of their first efforts on a more powerful system. Even if the game itself isn't necessarily great, it's kind of cool to see companies wring the last drops of life out of a console, creating effects that wouldn't be that out of place on a more advanced hunk of technology.

Crisis Force was one such victim of this policy and it was one that hurt. A vertically-scrolling shooter from Konami, it was the sort of thing that would have gotten a lot of time in my NES, even if I'd mostly abandoned that system in order to enjoy my newer SNES. This game is quite advanced for eight-bit, featuring things like parallax scrolling, while also using a custom Konami chip they'd also implemented for their Famicom port of Gradius II -- another game that didn't make it here, also to my displeasure. It's almost enough to make me view Konami's current sad state of affairs as karmic.

When it comes to this game's flaws, there's one that leaps to mind: it doesn't seem to keep score. At the least, there's no point total on the screen that goes up, up, up as I shoot enemy ships. Since a large part of this genre's appeal is predicated in players going for a high school to gain bragging rights -- hell, I've put hours into games I didn't even really like simply so I could post a good score on a message board -- this is a somewhat annoying omission.

Other than that, though, this game is pretty ace. Containing seven stages, it comes off as a pretty accessible game. If you've powered up your ship, you can survive a bullet at the expense of losing the additional power you've accrued. Most enemy projectiles can be destroyed by your weaponry and you also can collect items to trigger a transformation into a larger, more powerful vessel capable of firing massive shots. In this form, you'll see a timer counting down. If you take damage, that will simply lower that countdown dramatically, causing you to revert to your default ship very quickly.

The weaponry also was handled a bit differently than normal. It seemed like I'd regularly be firing bullets to my sides or back. While I might not have had the amount of firepower I'm used to seeing in front of me, I had to admit that I had a well-rounded arsenal that was capable of dealing with foes coming at me from nearly every direction. One cool power-up that proved to be my favorite was a shield that would bounce around in front of me, as its presence rewarded me for playing aggressively by damaging enemies that came into contact with it. My general strategy in shooters is to blast enemies from a safe distance, but there I was, getting up close and personal and letting my shield do the heavy lifting while my bullets were most important for eliminating enemy fire before it could damage me and take away my cool toys, leaving me with just a pea-shooter.

There is a good variety in its levels and many of them have some cool graphical effects. That stuff is put on display immediately, as the first level takes place over a city that's under attack from whatever alien force Konami decided would be the villains in this game. You'll see lasers destroying buildings as you fly and, a ways into the level, a large chasm opens up in the center of the screen. All of this looks good and becomes impressive when you consider it's happening on an eight-bit system. Even when the stages are somewhat mundane in concept, such as the crop circle-filled grasslands of the second level, the chasms and caverns of the third stage and the fourth level's lava ocean filled with Konami's beloved rock-spewing volcanos, the production values make them appealing to play through.

This alien force also has an Egyptian theme to them, which is very apparent in a few levels. The fifth stage could have been a generic battleship level over a large body of water, but all the large ships you'll be shooting the hell out of are designed to look like they're part of a particularly militaristic Pharaoh's fleet. The following level takes place over ruins littered with pyramid-like structures. This stage also has its share of cool effects. When you think you've beaten its final foe, that moment of triumph will quickly dispel as you watch the floor slowly drop into an abyss, one tile at a time, to reveal the actual boss -- a far more imposing creature.

The final stage even does a admirable job redeeming one of my least favorite elements of this genre: the late-game boss rush. We've all been there before. You're playing your way through a fun game, going through one enjoyable and inventive stage after the next, only to find yourself in a drab corridor littered with so many recycled encounters that's it's really hard to shake the feeling the programmers simply ran out of ideas and decided to throw a bunch of old bosses at players in lieu of creating something cool as a prelude to the final encounter.

Crisis Force does have a boss rush, which does constitute the bulk of its final stage. However, this one is different from the norm in that every single boss is an original encounter, with none of them having been lifted from past levels. Is it overkill to have seven bosses in one level? Probably, but I was having fun! There's a dude on a throne, an RD-D2-lookalike, a large robotic bird and a few others, with all of them proving that this game's designers were definitely not short on ideas.

In a fair and just world, Crisis Force would have been Konami's grand finale for the NES before moving onto the 16-bit generation. And in Japan, I guess it was. But most of the world didn't get this one and that's a shame. The action is fun and pretty forgiving compared to so many of its peers, which often embraced the arcade philosophy of "if you're not regularly dying, we're not getting enough money". Technologically, it was quite advanced for its time, with a number of neat visual feats I don't recall seeing on any other eight-bit shooter. This was a game that deserved better than to be a footnote during a time period when companies were abandoning old hardware in favor of new, so consider this review my way-too-late attempt to spread the good word!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 05, 2021)

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

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dagoss posted March 05, 2021:

Great review, and dad-worthy puns for the tagline.

I played Crisis Force after binging on PCE shooters, so I didn't really like it. Maybe I should give it another try.
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overdrive posted March 06, 2021:

The sad thing about being exposed to some of the people on this site: Now they have me trying to dad-joke my way through taglines with puns. I am not proud of things as they are. But I also couldn't think of any other tagline that didn't sound lame to me, so this is what we have!

As for the game, I'd say it's near the pinnacle of NES shooters and it reminded me of PCE/Genesis ones in a good way, particularly in production. It wasn't completely perfect, but after not having played one of these games in a while, it was perfect for me. Wasn't frustrating and was fun to advance through. And then...I played Raiden Trad on the Genesis. That got annoying in a hurry.

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