- Game: Abadox
- Developer: Natsume
- Publisher: Natsume (Japan), Milton Bradley (USA)
- Year: 1987 (Japan), 1990 (USA)
- Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
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First — TURN ON YOUR AUTOFIRE! Seriously, it’s pretty much necessary in this game. Otherwise you’ve got to mash the button, fast, for most of the time you’re playing, and that’s just not fun. Save yourself the hassle, and the potential finger-strain, and just use your NES Advantage and turn on autofire at max speed.
Abadox: The Deadly Inner War is a shmup for the NES, as the title says, that was made by Natsume. It was published in 1989 in Japan and 1990 in the US. You are a warrior of some type sent to rescue the kidnapped princess from a giant living alien planet. You fly into the planet-sized alien and spend the entire game traveling through its insides. The game has six levels, which alternate between horizontal and vertical scrolling. From that description it should be clear that the game was inspired by Life Force, and indeed games like Life Force, Gradius, and R-Type were clear inspirations for Abadox, but the game goes beyond just being a clone and does do its own thing. Abadox isn’t a game that I heard of when the NES was current. I first played it a couple of years ago. I heard that it was unique visually, but really hard, and that made me want to try it. I almost immediately liked the game, and decided to beat it. After a while, I did. Now, though, I own the NES cart version of the game myself, after finding it in a local store two days ago. I played the game immediately, and finished it within a day. While I like shmups, I’m not great at them, particularly the newer bullet-hell style of shmup. I’m absolutely HORRIBLE at bullet-hell games. Abadox, though, is an older style of shmup, and while the game is hard, it’s not impossible, and it’s a kind of hard I can deal with. I mean, I have beaten it twice now, if both times with a turbo-fire button (this time that NES Advantage joystick I mentioned). I wouldn’t do that if it was impossible or no fun. Yes, it was good enough to easily be worth playing more than once. While indeed it is quite hard, the game isn’t overly long; when I beat the game, it only took a few hours to finish. The first time it did take longer, as I would expect. There are only six two part levels, but when you don’t have it memorized, it will take quite a while to finish, even with the infinite continues that the game gives you. The infinite continues give you the time to learn it, if you have patience.
Abadox, you see, is a memorization-style shooter, in the R-Type school. THe game obviously was heavily influenced by R-Type and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Gradius and Life Force. However, Abadox is not as hard as either of those games. It may have a reputation for extreme difficulty, just like R-Type, but some of its design decisions, the infinite continues most notably, greatly lessen the challenge level. It is still very hard, but R-Type is harder. R-Type is a great, great game, unquestionably one of the all-time classic shmups, but it’s so, so hard that I find that sometimes it stops being fun. Gradius 1 for the NES is far harder than Abadox as well I would say, thanks at least in part to that game having no continues at all — die a few times and you start from the beginning again. Abadox, in comparison, is challenging, but fun most of the time, and the infinite continues are a key help. In these games you play, die or barely avoid dying as traps are sprung at you and enemy waves fly in, try again, get a little farther, die again, and repeat. As a result of Abadox’s very, very memorization-heavy design and that I still remembered some of what to do from my first time playing it, when I played it yesterday it didn’t take quite as long to finish as the last time. I noticed that there were times where, despite not really remembering the stages before seeing them again, I just instinctively went straight into the places I remembered were safe as I progressed… kind of cool.
Abadox is a visually interesting game, with a weird biological graphical theme that looks really cool and is artistically quite nice for the NES. Even if the game was obviously inspired by Life Force in both graphics and some gameplay elements, the game does a fantastic job. The the creepy nature of the graphics goes beyond anything in Life Force and is even more consistent to its theme and cool looking than that game is, I think. The graphics are very detailed and look fantastic. The amount of detail put in to every sprite and background is quite impressive and somehow reminds me of some of the more detailed, dark spritework on the NES like NES Batman or something. Things in the background pulse and move, giant hands come out of the walls, bulbs shoot huge beams, and more — you get a real sense that this place is alive. The creepy, very well done graphics really stand out and are a real part of why the game is such a great game. The music isn’t quite as great as the graphics, but it’s good enough, and is catchy and easy to listen to through the whole game, even though it repeats a lot in each stage. I like the music. It isn’t the best thing about the game, but it is good.
The game is extremely difficult, but isn’t that long at only six levels (each with two parts, with a miniboss at the middle and a final boss at the end). The only “checkpoint” in each level is after the midboss, so in effect there are 12 stages. Three levels are top-down, and three side-scrolling. Though both are tough, I find the topdown levels harder. There seem to be more pop-up surprise enemies that attack with little warning in the top-down levels, while in the side-scrolling levels I seem to have a bit better sense of what’s coming at me — and the more warning you have the better chance you have of getting through. I found the top-down level 2 much harder than the side-scrolling level 3, and top-down level 6 harder than side-scrolling level 5. Level 5 is the hardest of the side-scrolling stages, as you would expect, though, and it is challenging, so this only goes so far, but still, for me at least I really noticed this. I like the side-scrolling stages better, too, and find them more fun. But in general I do like horizontal shmups more than vertical ones, so that’s not too surprising; I like the horizontal levels better in Life Force too, for example, and Axelay on the SNES as well (though the perspective in the vert stages in that game is really cool). But anyway, back to Abadox.
Abadox has powerups which appear when you destroy one specific enemy type, a blue ship. Powerups are not that common, so don’t expect a constant stream of powerups coming at you, Gradius-style. You won’t get it. This makes getting the ones that there are even more important, if you aren’t at full power. Also they drop specific powers, so it’s not user-selectable like Gradius. The powerups include a speed up, rotating shield, invincibility that blocks one hit (I think), powerful straight laser, three-way shot, and five-way shot. Each is symbolized by a letter, so if you take the time you will eventually learn which is which, or you can just get them all (except maybe to stop collecting speed at some point). Powerups are rare enough in this game that that can be a good strategy, I think. The game is much, much easier when your ship is powered up, and in the classic Gradius fashion you really want to avoid dying because of how hard it is to start over with nothing but the peashooter. Whenever I die once, I’m almost sure to die quite a few more times before getting through the section, even though with full power it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as hard. But that is how this style of shmup goes, and it makes for a fun challenge as each time you try to do better and survive longer without dying. The stakes here aren’t as high as in the first three Gradius games, because you do have infinite continues, but still it’s a design that I like a lot, and it works very well here. The overall goal is simple: Try not to die. As you play, try to memorize everything you can so that when you do die, you have a slightly better chance of getting through the next time. Then learn what patterns of movement and shooting are required for you to get as many powerups as possible in the stage you’re in. They sometimes can be tricky to get.
One key factor makes things a lot easier than they otherwise would be: You have infinite continues, as I have said. Really, this is why I was able to beat it so quickly (or at all perhaps). You don’t have to restart the whole thing after a couple of deaths, you can just keep trying until you get it right. This really is a key to why I’d call the game not quite as hard as it sometimes seems to get a reputation for being — yeah it’s hard, but you have infinite continues! You don’t need to replay level 2 (level 2-2 is very, very hard if you die in it and have to start from the beginning of 2-2 with just the peashooter) fifty times just because you keep dying in level 5 or 6. With a game with levels this hard, which will kill you so many times until you memorize exactly where you should be at every instant, that is a huge, huge thing. The game is challenging, but manageable.
As an example from my recent playthrough of the game, after dying midway through my first attempt at level 2-2, I think the level took me an hour to beat. I found it one of the hardest stages in the game, in fact, going by how long it took. Levels 5 and 6 probably are harder overall, but by that point I was more used to the game again I think… but also, level 2-2 is very cruel — there are NO weapon upgrades in the whole stage. There’s just a shield, rotating guard thing, and speedup… no weapon upgrades at all. It makes the stage inordinately difficult; even one basic weapon upgrade would make a tremendous difference… but instead it’s just really frustrating. Oh well, I got past it eventually and went on to beat the game.
Level 6 really is an awesome stage, full of all kinds of interesting challenges. This game just keeps ramping things up, and I wish it was longer or it had sequels so that I could see more of this design. Each level throws new challenges at you, and you have to learn how to respond. For instance in level 6 you learn to not hold down fire all the time, because there are enemies that aren’t too threatening (they just combine and fly off the screen, just learn where to be to avoid the combining parts) if you don’t hit them, but become serious nuisances if you do destroy any of their parts — then all the other parts start flying right at you, and it’ll take some good flying to avoid getting destroyed. It’s tricky and you will only consistently get past it with memorization, but I think that they’re some of the more interesting enemies in the game — it’s not the kind of thing you see too often in these games.
Oh, the bosses are oddly easy compared to the levels. I don’t think I died more than two or three times at most of them. A few are a bit harder, but most have multiple blind spots where you can just stay in one space and fire, and wait until the enemy dies; the others generally only require very simple back and forth movements to beat. Only a few are more complex. I’m not complaining though, because with levels as hard as this game’s are, it’s nice to have a bit of a break — and with how when you die at a boss you go all the way back to the beginning of the area (either the beginning of the level or to right after the miniboss, depending on if you’d beaten the first part or not), I don’t mind this, really. Having to replay the levels even more times would impact the fun factor, I think. Still, compared to how hard the levels are, it is a bit odd. Eh, whatever, it’s fun. The bosses are often huge and pretty impressive, so they certainly do visually impress. They just go down easier than you might think. This is true all the way to the final boss, the last boss has only one form and it’s not that much harder than any bosses before. At least the ending is decent, if simple. You rescued the princess and escaped, congratulations. (On that note, stage 7, the escape, is a fun one… not hard, but a great touch. These things became common later on, but in 1989 or 1990 when this game came out I don’t know how common these stages were… it’s not hard, but it is fun. 🙂 )
Overall, I really like this game. It reminds me of games like Gradius and R-Type, both of which I like a lot. Gradius particularly is probably my favorite shmup series, and R-Type’s got to be up there. Abadox feels somewhat like those games, but it is also different enough that it is definitely its own game — this isn’t just a Life Force clone, despite the similar theme. Abadox is a very good shooter, and anyone who wants a challenge that will really reward you as you learn the game and what do do at each point would to well to play it. It really is a fantastic game. Don’t let what I say about the difficulty stop people from trying it, it’s really worth playing, in my opinion. I think it’s an incredibly fun game, and it’s got to be one of my favorite NES shmups. Konami’s shmups are my favorites on the NES, but this is one of the best of the rest. I’d give Abadox a pretty good score, it deserves it.
Some gameplay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uJnpR2gXQM
Finally, about the magazine ad posted at the top of this post. That’s the original US magazine ad for the game. The scan is from NESHQ: http://www.neshq.com/media/mag/ It’s pretty good stuff, and depicts the game well. The Abadox logo, with the name partially turning into a dripping blood or red stuff of some kind, is creepy and awesome looking, just like the game as a whole.
Oh, on that note, one odd thing is that I can’t quite tell if ingame you’re supposed to be a flying person in a suit or a spaceship… sometimes it looks like the one, sometimes the other… could they not decide or something, and both ended up in the game, or am I just not doing a good job of understanding the graphics? 🙂