Air Fortress
System: NES Publisher: HAL America Developer: HAL Laboratory
Genre: Action Type: Shooter/Platform Hybrid Circa: 1989
Heading out into a bland new universe...We begin our mission by shooting at things that look like they came off my bathroom wallpaper

Air Fortress is one of those kinds of games that tries to be so many things all at once. Many games that attempt doing this often end up falling short in some areas, because there is not enough focus on any one aspect to make it great. Air Fortress is no exception to this. While it is not a bad game, and it has quite a few interesting concepts and features, the sum of its parts doesn't quite equal a great gaming experience on the whole.
I was very disappointed by this game's graphics. They are not entirely bad for an 8-bit game, but they could have been better. First of all, your little man and the enemies are very nondescript and monochrome. Due to the lack of color and detail, most of them look one-dimensional. The same few enemies appear over and over again, sometimes with palette swapping. The best-looking parts of the game are the space sequences where you fly your space sled over the surface of the fortresses. Some of the graphics here do look quite nice, such as the eerie background fog, and the spinning origami enemies. But the graphics for inside the fortresses are just plain terrible. The backgrounds usually consist of a simple tiled pattern, whose color clashes with the silvery-gray foreground. And even though there are different background colors and patterns in each fortress, the levels still all look alike. Although this game was actually made in 1987, there were still a number of games, even by that year, that looked lightyears better than this (Castlevania being one good example.)
Whoever owns this air fortress needs to fire their interior decorator...Pistons! Woo-hoo!
SOUND: 3/10
Plain and simple, this game's sound is annoying. It seems like they were really trying, but the results just weren't that great. There's basically the same music in every level. There's one theme while flying through space, another when you're in the fortress, then it changes when you beat the core, and then there's some songs that play during the cinemas. For the most part, it sounds very "gung-ho", until you blow up the core, then it becomes dark and eerie. The music loops after every few notes, and is quite irritating. The sound effects are typical bleeps, bloops, and explosions.
CONTROL: 6.5/10
Many aspects of this game's play control bother me. In the space areas, it's easy to move your space sled around the screen and shoot, but you can only fire one shot at a time, and the sled feels a bit sluggish. It's comparable to playing Gradius without picking up any speed-ups. You have to learn to compensate for this, which isn't all that bad, but it's not very fun, either. In the fortresses, control is different, since you control your spaceman without the sled. The gravity in the fortress is light, so you can float all around the screen. Moving around is easy, but the spaceman is almost as sluggish as the sled. When you fire your weapon, there is a recoil effect that causes you to slide backwards a little bit. At first, I thought this control was great. But as I progressed into the later fortresses, I started wishing that the spaceman could move around a little quicker, since more and more enemies were on the screen, chasing me and shooting at me.
I really hate it when living big fortresses disturb the peace...The creator of Section Z is probably gritting his teeth by now
The story of Air Fortress is basically the same as most space shooters. An armada of hostile space fortresses has appeared out of nowhere, and are destroying all planets they come across. They are headed straight to the planet Farmel, and it's up to one man, Hal Bailman, to stop them. The story isn't original, but the way it's executed is different from other shooters. Instead of just flying through stage after stage of enemies, you actually have to go into the fortresses, find the core, and blow it up. Then you must escape on your space sled before the fortress explodes. There's a little cinema that shows Hal escaping on his space sled each time you complete a fortress, but it's the same every time. Air Fortress's overall design is so nondescript, that it's devoid of practically any atmosphere.
Air Fortress starts out easy enough. I beat the first three fortresses on my first try, without even dying. But it gets more challenging the farther you progress. Unfortunately, the challenge is not always that engaging. You fight the same few enemies over and over again in each fortress. As you progress, there will be more of them, and especially more of the kind that are harder to beat, which makes it hard to keep from taking hits because of the slow speed of the spaceman. The fortresses also become bigger and more confusing later in the game, and it can be a real challenge just finding the core. Once you've found the core and blown it up, you then have to find the escape pod before the fortress blows sky high. This can also be quite difficult! Unfortunately, none of this is really executed too well. I don't think stockloading more and more of the same kinds of enemies in rooms is an acceptable way of making a game more challenging. I would have preferred more creative obstacles in the fortresses, and maybe some bosses. (The cores aren't really bosses, since they do not attack.) The space scenes can be challenging at first, but once you learn the enemy patterns, and the layout of the level, they really aren't too hard. Once you beat the game, there is a more challenging second quest, too.
FUN: 4/10
Many people have said they really love this game, and I can agree that it was an interesting concept. I, however, did not find it to be all that much fun to play. The space shooter scenes are extremely simplistic, and fall well below the standards of just about every other NES shooter I've played. Floating around in zero gravity in the fortresses is very fun at first, but the novelty wears off after awhile. The gameplay also becomes somewhat redundant. I felt like I was doing the exact same thing over and over again, only the fortress got bigger and filled with more enemies. More creative level design in the fortresses would have helped, immensely. Air Fortress borrows many of its gameplay elements from Capcom's NES version of Section-Z, but it does not come close to being as good as that game is.
I think the real reason Hal wants to destroy these fortresses is because they're so damn ugly!...I'm being attacked by jacks and 3D origami

At first, I thought Air Fortress would be a good game. The idea of a shooter/maze hybrid where you get to float around in zero gravity was interesting enough, but just not executed too well. Because I did not enjoy the first quest much at all, I have no motivation to finish the second quest. NES collectors may be interested in getting this game, despite my low opinion, because it is kind of quirky and different, and not completely unplayable. But if you really want a game like this, Section-Z would be more worth your time.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 4/10



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