While one could spend a review obsessing over how Abadox "borrows" from or "rips off" other shooters, particularly Life Force, it may be more important for people to understand just how intense and original a shooter it can be. Often passed off as being "too hard" or "impossible to finish" (without use of an invincibility code), Abadox is often overlooked or made fun of by gamers. However, it is possible that Abadox could very well be one of the most underrated shmups of all time.
I have to take my hat off to Natsume, they did an excellent job with the graphics of this game. Instead of piloting a ship, you control a man in a space suit, and you are actually fighting inside some sort of very large space creature. Therefore, many of the surroundings look like the innards of a monster, much like in Konami's NES shooter, Life Force. You will fly over such terrain as intestines, arterties, blood cells, nerves, brains, teeth, and even a huge tongue, all drawn very large, and very colorfully. Some of the body parts even move, such as pulsating arteries and the wiggling tongue. The enemies are big and colorful, and some almost look 16-bit. The skulls, floating brains, arms, cells and worm-like enemies fit with the game's theme, but some enemies, such as the pterodactyls in the first level, look a little out-of-place.
But perhaps the best part of the game's graphics is the bosses. Most of them look like parts of a monster, such as a "brain" boss (which looks eerily similar to Life Force's first boss), an eyeball, and a giant cilia parasite. My particular favorite is a boss that looks somewhat human. A few moments after the battle with this boss begins, an alien-like creature springs out of its chest. Even some of the mini-bosses, such as that skeletal dog in the first level, look better than the main bosses of other games. The later levels of this game have more of a high-tech look to them, which is strange, but also reminiscent of Life Force.
While the backgrounds and enemies do look great, they do appear to be a bit "cartoon-like", which, in all honesty, does not really bother me in the least. The graphics in some areas also seem a little too similar to Life Force, particularly the first boss, and an area right before it where you pass through a giant set of sharp teeth. Also, in the vertical scrolling stages, the spaceman whom you control isn't drawn too well, and I wouldn't even know what the heck he is supposed to be if I didn't see what he looked like in the horizontal stages.
Over time, I have really come to appreciate most aspects of Abadox's sound effects and music. Natsume borrowed a bit from Konami with the style of music. It sounds very similar to something you might hear in Contra or Life Force. However, as far as NES compositions go, they have quite a bit of merit all their own. The opening sequence begins with a cinema of your spaceman against an eerie tune that sounds amazingly like a real instrument. During the actual game, the music can be hard-driving in some stages, and eerie-sounding in others. The music in Levels 2 and 3 are exceptional, and made me wish this game had a sound test. There's even one part where the music dies down completely, and all that is heard in the background is a thumping heartbeat until you reach the boss.
One complaint I have would be that the game doesn't have enough music. The Level 1 theme is used in 3 different levels, and it's probably the least outstanding of the stage themes. The boss theme is okay, but it is used for every boss and mini-boss, and even the final boss, which cheapens its effect.
The sound effects of Abadox consist mostly of explosions and laser shots. Though a bit cliche, they are very well-done, and never irritating. There's nothing more satisfying than the sound of your spaceman grabbing a much-needed power-up. I also like the laser beam sound effect, which is very unique to this game, whereas many other sound effects are "borrowed" from other shooters.
Abadox has much better play control than I thought it did when I first started playing it. The quality of your spaceman's control is going to depend on the power-ups you have. There are several different weapon power-ups that you can acquire. Your normal weapon only allows you to fire two shots straight ahead, which is cumbersome to say the least. But in most areas, you'll come across different capsules carrying more powerful weapons, including a three-way shot, a five-way shot, a single laser beam, and a giant circle beam. Unfortunately, Abadox does not have autofire. You have to continually tap the B button to shoot, and most weapons only allow you to fire one shot at a time. However, this is probably better suited to Abadox's style of play, meaning you can't just mindlessly blast away at everything and blow through the game with ease.
One aspect of the control that can be somewhat of an annoyance is the speed-up system. I'm not overly fond of having to collect a speed-up in shooters in order to have good play control. Without at least one speed-up, the spaceman's movement around the screen is very slow and sluggish. Part of the emphasis of this game is quick dodging, and if you make a mistake and have to restart the level, chances are, you may not be able to move fast enough to dodge the onslaught before you can get another speed-up. It's almost as though the game tries to force you to beat it in one life. I don't think it's impossible to complete a level if you lose a life and start over. I have done it on many occasions, but I probably find it easier to start the whole game over than to try to complete a tough level without power-ups. If you collect more than 2 speed-ups, the spaceman's control becomes too quick for most situations. This could easily make getting through narrow passageways next-to-impossible, as one small tap of the d-pad will send you colliding into a wall. This is not so much a problem as it is something you have to be aware of. Abadox's control is intuitive, but requires some mastering.
The story of Abadox is that you are Lieutenant Nazal, a space soldier defending your home planet of Abadox from a giant, invading alien life form called Parasitis. Parasitis has devoured a ton of planets on his way to your home, and he's even swallowed a hospital ship with the Princess of Abadox, Maria, on board. The only way to rescue her is for Nazal to enter Parasitis's body, find Maria, and escape, but not before destroying Parasitis from the inside-out. Of course, Abadox doesn't really cover any new ground here. The idea of one space soldier versus the big alien has been done by many other shooters, before. The idea of flying inside a huge alien monster's body was done before by Life Force. And of course, we've all heard the "save the princess" plot, before (albeit, this is the first time I've ever seen it used in a shooter.)
While Abadox doesn't have the greatest, or most original plot, it does have atmosphere going for it. In Life Force, it can sometimes be easy to forget that you're supposed to be fighting inside an alien, since the levels often include settings like caves and a pyramid. In Abadox, the feeling of being inside a creature is portrayed a bit better in that each level resembles some kind of body part, ie, mouth, esophagus, nerve center, etc. The only exception is in the last two levels, where you end up in what I believe to be the remainder of the hospital ship that was swallowed by Parasitis.
While Abadox's theme is borrowed somewhat from Life Force, it would seem the designers may have actually been more inspired by R-Type when it comes to the actual gameplay. Like R-Type, it takes a lot of practice and memorization of enemy locations and patterns to be able to get through each level. There are tons of enemies on the screen at almost all times, and many of them shoot projectiles at you. It can also be hard to dodge because the background objects tend to be in your way. Some places, especially in the vertical scrolling stages, you have only a narrow passageway to maneuver through.
There's a good variety of enemies in each stage, too. Most of them have different kinds of movement and attacking patterns. The bosses, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Some of them can be challenging, but none of them are really overly difficult. It is often possible to find "safe spots" or relative safe spots when fighting them, which means you don't have to dodge too much, if at all. The art of Abadox's challenge lies more in its level design, often forcing you to take one distinct path through a level and memorize a pattern of attacking enemies and obstacles. The frustration factor is eased a bit by the power-ups, which include weapons that make it easier to destroy enemies, and shields that make you invincible for a certain number of hits. Although Abadox is not an easy game, it is certainly not unfair or impossible to beat.
Abadox is a game that really grew on me. I admit I did not like it all that much at first and passed it off as a Life Force clone. But upon giving it another, more serious try, I realized that this game did, indeed, have a lot going for it.
The level design is probably unmatched by any other NES shooter, but the difficulty curve is a bit erratic. After hours of playing, I am quite confident in saying that Levels 2 and 6 are the hardest in the whole game. The other levels become easier with practice, and almost too easy once mastered. But they are challenging enough that mastering them will take some time. Just like in Life Force, there are both horizontal and vertical scrolling stages, which mix up the action. But unlike every other vertical scrolling shooter I've seen, Abadox scrolls downward instead of up, which is somewhat innovative.
One great aspect of Abadox is that it never has any "cheap" moments. There are no enemies that appear out of nowhere to ambush you, and no enemies that change direction at the last possible moment to crash into you (which was a major problem in the NES shooter Alpha Mission.) Another good thing is that constant mindless blasting will not get you past every situation. There are some enemy patterns, such as those in the beginning of Level 6, that will require some thought for you to figure out how to get by them. Abadox is very fast-paced and there is never a lull in the action.
Abadox is a very well-made shooter game. The graphics are mesmerizing, the music is excellent, the play control is intuitive, and the challenge is immersive. Shooter fans should definitely check it out, and if you're a collector of NES games, this is a game that you should have.
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