Saturday, December 21, 2019

Predator (NES, 1987)

Predator was one of my favorite movies from the 80's, and it's a safe bet that I would have gotten the game if I'd had an NES as a kid. Yeah, it's another T2 For Game Boy situation. So how terrible is it?

First of all, this movie is reknowned for featuring multiple future governors, and for being the first time most people knew what the aptly-named Minigun was. It'll turn you into a sexual tyrannosaurus, that's for sure. 

I mean this movie is just brilliant on all levels. Not only as an action movie (I'd put it in the top 3 action movies of all time) but as a movie in general. It's suspenseful and the titular villain is interesting enough to spawn an entire mythology of movies and games. It also directly inspired Contra, and is the root of a fair amount of the Metroid series as well. 

So of course, it's a no-brainer that they had to make a game based on this movie. There are all kinds of ways they could have gone about doing this. A Duck Hunt knockoff? A Contra-esque shooter? Pachinko? 

The game begins with a quick cutscene of the Predator's pod launching from the nearby mothership. 

The title screen is actually well-done. Contra wishes it could have this title screen, plzdon'tsue 

The game begins with our heroes flying into the jungle to start their mission. Awesome! Time to fight some cartels. Will we get a character select? 

...oh, the intro is still going. Our heroes fought a fierce battle against the cartels and won. Would have been cool to play that part, but it's okay. Time to battle the Predator! I want to play as the guy with the mingun.

 ...oh, the intro is still going. Looks like everybody's dead except Dutch. So much for playing as any of the other guys.

So...basically this game just picks up at the very last part of the movie, when Dutch and the Predator are hunting each other.

Wait a minute, that's not Dutch! That's... 

...Bret "The Hitman" Hart? You play as Bret Hart in this game? Seriously, it's unmistakable.

So...Contra has you playing as Dutch from Predator, and Predator has you playing as WWF Superstar Bret Hart.

Moments after the previous shot was taken, I got attacked by this boulder. That's right, green boulders move towards you and damage you. Blue boulders (like the one on the left) are stationary. Ehhh? 

For some ungodly reason, you start every stage with no weapons, only a near-useless punch. You can find weapons in the stages (sometimes) but lose them the second you begin a new stage. There's a machine gun right at the beginning of the first stage here, but it's semi-hidden in the upper left corner, easy to miss. Why the subterfuge? Who knows.

With the machine gun you can actually fight enemies effectively. For example, you can fire while ducking, whereas you can't punch while ducking. Since most enemies are low to the ground, you're essentially helpless against them without a gun. Really weird game design here and we aren't even out of level 1 yet.

When the game is paused, if you press ANY button besides Start, it auto-destructs your character. What the hell?

I can explain though. They put in this completely bizarre feature because it's so easy to get trapped due to bad design. For example, if you fall behind some blocks and don't have a weapon that can destroy them. You basically need a self-destruct feature to avoid having to reset the game. OR they could have just designed the levels better and like, tested them, but HEY. 

Speaking of the level design...whoever worked on these levels had a real boner for tiny platforms and difficult jumps. still level 1, out of 30. You'd think we were on World 8 of Super Mario Bros or something. 

The stages end when you find these doorways. Some of the stages are very short, over in a minute or two. Also, quite a few of them are skippable since some levels have multiple exits that almost function as warp zones. So the game can be beaten in about a half hour...a very tedious half hour, as you run around punching boulders that are too low to hit while trying to avoid getting trapped in badly-designed rock puzzles.

Speaking of the bad design...the ground tiles are wildly inconsistent. Some of them, you fall right through. Others are actually stable platforms. Here, this looks like a stairway right? WRONG. You can land on the tops of the steps, but if you move too far to the right on a step you slide right through the wall and die.

Here's more bad design. I had a weapon, so they put a Punch "powerup" in a nearly-unavoidable spot just to screw the player out of their weapon. Why even have a powerup that reverts your weapon back to the default? It'd be like if Mario games had a "Regular Mario" powerup that just took away your Fire Flower if you had one. 

Oh, also...I'm perma-stuck here because I destroyed the blocks that you're supposed to use to jump up. TIME TO BLOW UP.

There we go. Carefully destroy the upper left block in this square and you can both jump onto it AND jump up and to the left. 

I managed to just barely avoid picking up the Punch, as well. There are two main weapon powerups in the game: Machine Gun and Laser. They pretty much look and function the same, though the Laser also breaks blocks. There's an awful third weapon: Grenades. They're nearly impossible to fight enemies with, but you sometimes need them to break blocks in stages with no Laser.

They could have just let you switch weapons on the fly to avoid a lot of the game's issues, but HEY.

Check out these crystal-bubbles. These tiles are right out of the original Metroid. This game borrows an awful lot from that one, yet none of the good aspects. 

Here's a part where you just run back and forth to get from the top of the screen to the bottom of the screen. Who designed these levels? WAS THIS THEIR FIRST GAME? 

More tiny blocks over pits, which are all kinds of fun in an NES game wih lousy jump controls. 

Every so often you fight a Predator miniboss. These guys all look different so I'm not sure if they're supposed to be different Predators. These fights are basically the Birdos of the game: There are a lot of them and they're all easy. They just jump up and down and fire projectiles. Ducking and firing every time they land results in an easy win. 

 However, those are just the minibosses. Every few stages you'll defeat one, then get whisked to the actual boss after a cutscene. As for this first cutscene...surprised to see this level of brutality in an NES game.

The actual boss stages are autoscrolling and consist of you fighting the Predator in a hallway while orbs and tiny Predator heads attack you. This looks like a completely different game. Honestly, the entire game would have probably been better off if it had just consisted of stages like this. You get to fire a machine gun and everything! 

The Predator in Real Boss form, seen here breaking cloaking to kill Dutch with a teabag to the head. 

 The Predator is actually pretty well animated and badass for the NES. This is the one part of the game that they really did a good job designing. The actual fight is kinda meh though, since you're nearly-immobile and basically just have to blast the Predator faster than it depletes your health.

As a kid, shots of these Predator big boss fights were the only ones I saw in magazine ads, so I thought the whole game was like this. It's the main reason I wanted to play it, and was still interested in checking it out to this day.

The levels get really atrocious later on. Here's a section where you have to blast your way through rocks with grenades, which is tedious enough. Of course, they threw in a random flying bacteria enemy that harasses you the entire time, because why not? Problem is, you can't really kill it because you're stuck using grenades. And if you do manage to time an explosion to take it out, another enemy immediately spawns.

Sometimes the game taunts you by putting a weapon at the beginning of a stage, either behind an obstacle or too high to reach. 

There are a few stages with multiple exits, like I mentioned before. Weird thing is, they're always next to each other. The ones that function as warps aren't exactly hidden. Here we have Stage 13, where the lower exit takes you to Stage 14 and the higher one takes you to Stage 19. 

That's right, Stage 19! I'm skipping levels like a maniac! 

Here's another part where you just run back and forth to get to the bottom of a screen. There's no rhyme or reason to these levels. It's like a kid made them. 

Another Predator miniboss! What's the point of these super-easy minibosses, when you have real boss fights with the Predator right afterwards? 

This part near the end had me confused for a while. There's a pit you can't get over, and the solution is to go back to the left and ride on this one enemy that flies from left to right. It's the first time I ever needed to ride on one of these...or even saw one, so at first I'd just blast it. 

Here's an impossible-to-get grenade. Luckily it isn't even needed for the level, so it's just there to make people fall into the pit trying to get it. 

The final level is the most Metroidesque yet. Note the bird enemy attacking by taking a dump. I remember that from the movie. And is that a Shyguy in the lower left? Man, this game steals a lot of ideas from other stuff.

The final boss is a GIANT PREDATOR HEAD. It's just like the giant Terminator head at the end of that one game I played a while back. Weird. This thing is WAY more difficult than anything else in the game, and it doesn't help that there's a bird flying back and forth dumping on you for the entire fight. The good news is that sometimes it'll randomly fly off the screen and disappear for the rest of the fight. 

Like the Terminator head, this thing has a massive amount of health. When it's nearing defeat it loses the helmet, at least. No boss health meter here like other Predator fights, and this is the time you really needed one.

That's it. That's Predator. What a weird game. I'm glad I finally played it. While Terminator 2: Judgment Day on the Game Boy is a fairly benign experience that I probably would have persevered through, I can safely say that Predator isn't a game I would have finished as a kid, and there's a much greater chance it would have turned me off of NES games (if I'd had the system). Let's hope that in the hypothetical universe where I had an NES as a kid, I resisted the temptation to buy this and stuck to Mega Man 3 not what he said in the movie. Whew, I'm glad this game is over.

This post in memory of Sonny Landham. RIP.

1 comment:

  1. This is like the monkey's paw version of "I want to play an action game as The Hitman"

    It's interesting how different the game is during the boss fights, but pretty deceptive if the game's advertising was based off of those parts.

    That little pink enemy with wings is surprisingly cute.

    As someone who did stick with Mega Man 3, that would have been a good call.