Friday, November 7, 2014

Grindhouse Double Feature: Nemesis (Game Boy, 1991)

Today I'm looking at another pair of portable games. Nemesis was a Game Boy version of Gradius, not unlike how Operation C is a Game Boy version of Contra. Konami likes to do that.

It isn't a straight port, but rather its own similar-yet-different game. It also got a hard-as-hell sequel in the same year, but only in Japan and Europe.


Weirdly, you can give yourself as many lives as you want, as well as start on any stage you want. Obviously these things impact the difficulty level of the game quite a bit. It's very accessible to people new to shooters, something I wouldn't say about previous Gradius games.

The game begins with what you'd expect. Same Gradius powerups and everything. I usually go for Double over Laser, even though Laser (seen here) looks pretty cool. Double covers the area above you, while missiles cover the area below you. Other favorites like Options (two "ghost ships" that follow you and also fire shots) and Force Field (lets you absorb three more hits than your initial one) are here as well.

If there were any doubt that Nemesis is from the Gradius family, that goes out the window with the first boss. The Big Core is quite iconic.

The second stage has you fighting cancer., seriously, these giant tumor things are called "cancer" in the instruction manual.

 The best part of this game? The impressive boss designs. That's pretty common with shooters, actually. They usually have one big obvious weak point.

The famous Easter Island moai statues return for Stage 3. Don't get too close, though, because they fire laser-bubbles at you.

Death in this game, per usual, bounces you back to a checkpoint with no powerups. Luckily, it doesn't take long at all to start regaining your powers. In a way, it's kind of cool to have this happen once in a while just so you can collect things again.

 Another sweet boss design. They look great, but they lack any real animation.

The fourth boss bears a passing resemblance to the HK Tanks from Terminator. I think. It might just be in my head.

The final boss, the Mother Computer, is stationary and somewhat underwhelming.

With that, the game is over. Yep, just five short stages. This wouldn't have lasted me long if I'd gotten it as a kid (and I wanted to, at some point).

What I didn't know all of these years is that it had a sequel that never made it to the states. That sequel?

 The aptly-named Nemesis 2. Released the same year, this one gives us five more stages... five much harder stages. Actually, the difficulty level of this game seems to pick up right where the final stage of the previous game left off. Kinda like the original Super Mario Bros 2 that didn't get released here.

This is new. A choice of missiles from the get-go gives us some variety. Only thing is... it isn't much of a choice. Few enemies ever attack from behind and Options usually take care of them. Also, Normal is basically the same as 2Way, only without the upper missile. In other words, the middle one is the only one that really makes any sense to use.

We begin with Vic Viper flying through some sort of alien armada. Before long, it gets chased by...

 ...a Big Core, prompting a high-speed chase through an asteroid belt. This is TOUGH and I died several times right off the bat. That's after barely dying at all in the first game. Yep, I totally see why this didn't get an NA release. We North American gamers weren't Pro enough for this kind of thing.

 After the asteroid belt chase (remember that, it's important later), you end up in some very detailed ruins. The scroll-speed normalizes here, thankfully. It's hard to tell if the ruins are a harmless part of the background or if they'll destroy you if you bump them. The answer? The latter. Yep, this game doesn't mess around.

The first boss is very well-designed, especially for a portable game from 1991. It's also hard as hell. In other news, I'd like to congratulate the Xenomorph on making it into YET ANOTHER GAME!

As the fight progresses, the mouth-jaw breaks off and attacks on its own. What circle of hell is this?

Victory causes the boss to fall apart so you can continue. The death-animation here is seamless and a tremendous improvement over the animation-less bosses in the first game.

The stages get less rocky and more metallic as you progress. This particular stage is a smorgasbord of powerups, as all of the weird stationary domes give up orbs.

Another cool-looking boss. This one is a doozy, as it can control the magnetic pull of the room. Getting pushed and pulled back and forth while also avoiding enemy lasers... it's very difficult to deal with, to say the least.

At last, the Big Core returns. I like how damn BIG these things are in the Nemesis duology. In the NES Gradius, they tended to be kind of small onscreen. It wasn't until the SNES Gradius III that these things truly got big and imposing on consoles, so Nemesis and the sequel were (slightly) ahead of their time.

Defeat the Big Core and it tumbles to a planet in a fiery inferno. The player's ship follows it to the planet, and the next stage begins. Yes, all of this is animated. Very impressive game, this.

 This game's version of the Mother Computer is much more impressive. Again, this looks like a design out of an SNES game.

 The surprise here is that after you defeat the computer, the core flees. You chase it through a collapsing tunnel, dodging falling debris (which nearly all falls behind you, so it isn't as tough as it could be), then...

 ...out into an asteroid field. That's right, the game ends the same way it began, only in reverse, with you now the aggressor.

Eventually the core stops fleeing and stops to fight, but this one is over quickly. Awesome ending, to say the least.

After you win, BAM, you get this screen. No credits, no nothing. BAM.

Nemesis is a decent Game Boy game, worth checking out and suitable for beginners. Nemesis 2, however, is something else entirely. It's a balls-to-the-wall game with unforgiving difficulty...and yet it's quite impressive on all levels. It's clear that a ton of effort went into this one. Too bad it, like the first game, is a measily five stages. Either game can be beaten in 20-25 minutes, plus whatever time is spent repeating stages (likely quite a bit for the second game). Not a bad way to spend an afternoon for retro shooter fans.

Other Related Posts:


  1. Nemesis II did came out in the US. It was called Gradius: The Interstellar Assault.

    1. Whoa, I had no idea. Good to know. I'd correct that part, but since it's noted down here there's no need.

  2. I bet even the easier game was tougher on the Game Boy's small green and yellow screen. Especially considering how quickly you can die!

    1. That's very likely. I played it on a computer, and obviously the screen was very clear so I never died. On an old-school Game Boy, though? I don't think most people remember just how hard it was to see on those things.

  3. Being able to set your level and number of lives makes this kinda like Spades or Bridge. You have to gauge your ability clearly right from the start.
    These both look good, and the second looks terrific. Nice clear images. Like Brayn said, they look a lot better now that we have backlit screens.