Monday, August 11, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: Astyanax for the NES!


 Ever hear of a fun little side scrolling arcade port for the Nintendo Entertainment System called Astyanax? Well, if you haven't before than shame on you, but now is your chance to grab an education. This little gem is one of those games that I knew existed back in the heyday of the NES but yet I never really had a chance to sit down and play it until about a year ago, but let me tell you this, I was really missing out on some fun side scrolling hack n' slash for all these years.
    Astyanax is very similar to games like Casltevania in that it's a side-scroller that focuses on killing enemies and making it to the end of the level while collecting power ups and other such things along the way. It features very nice graphics for the NES and I would say that graphically it's one of the nicer games to come out during the early 90's for the system, definitely better than many other games that were out at the time. It's fun too, if not a little frustrating at times thanks to obsticals that almost force you to take damage unless you pull off a fancy move or know the patterns of every enemy in the game. But this is heavily stereotypical of many Nintendo games of that era. But it doesn't hinder your experience with the game very much and difficulty can be a good thing if it's not in your face with unfair obstacles and insane enemies that force heavy damage upon you.

    The bosses in this game are kind of neat, they're not overly hard but some of them can take an absurd
amount of hits before you kill them. If you take the time to learn their patterns and use some strategy than they're not too difficult. The levels themselves aren't too long either and some feature mini-bosses that are fun and interesting. The real bitch is that you'll actually have to face them all a second time because before you make it to the final boss thank to a gauntlet where you have to challenge them all one after another. It's the most frustrating and difficult part of the game because there is little in the way of spell or health potions during this time, but they make sure to fill you up before you face the final 2 bosses of the game. Yeah, you read that correctly. There are actually 2 main bosses in the game that must be challenged one after another. I can see why this would happen because this is based off of the arcade game of the same name and games manufactured for the arcade are meant to drain you of your quarters and are usually insanely hard. So it's to be expected that the boss battles toward the end of the game are designed to bleed you dry with little to no help.

   To some people, all these insane boss battles may deter them from trying the game out but I really didn't think it was overly excessive and if you're playing the game with the help of Game Genie than you should be all set. It just becomes a matter of time before you make it on through. But for those who are not using Game Genie than I suggest you learn the patterns of the boss fights as good as you can and save up you're spells because you're going to need them. Also, time you're jumps and make sure no enemies are near the ledges that may pop up and kill you. These kinds of things are everywhere in this game and you know what that means. Yup, the classic Nintendo bounce back upon taking a hit which will cause you to lose a life from falling into a pit. Fuck.
 One big gripe with this game I do have is that the enemies are pretty repetitive while making your way through the levels. You'll run into skeletons constructed of every color in 
the rainbow, the same plant-like creatures that crowd the edges of pits that will cause you to fall down, and other similar bugs and things that fly around that you'll notice you've already faced in previous levels. I guess I'll just chalk it up to lazy production, but the experience of making your way through the game is enjoyable so it didn't hinder my view on Astyanax much at all. It would have been nice to have more exciting enemies to fight along the way. Other than the repetitive enemies I really enjoyed my time with this game, I'm a big fan of arcade ports as well as side-scrolling hack n' slash titles so Astyanax was right down my alley. 
It's just a shame that I missed out on it for all these years. I do remember in 1994 going into a Funcoland and seeing it on the price sheet and thinking it sounded interesting, but when I asked to see the cart the guy working behind the counter told me it wasn't that good of a game and that I'd be better of getting some other game for the Genesis that was similar but with better graphics. Goes to show you that you shouldn't always take the advice of the sales clerk because not only did I not get Astyanax on that day but I ended up going with his recommendation and the game he sold me was utter crap. Oh well, you live and you learn. From a production standpoint the graphics and the control in Astyanax are stellar with large and well detailed characters and amazing cut scenes for its time, as well as tight mechanics that make it a smooth experience to play. In my opinion this is a gem that everyone should have in their NES library because it's one that houses some very enjoyable elements, it's definitely on par and surpasses many side-scrolling action/adventure games that appeared on the NES at the time. The game, much like many NES titles, also has some awesome music that helps with the overall experience and make playing through the levels an absolute joy. There was just something about the NES and the music that many of its games that were able to produce that has become legendary in the eyes of many retro gamers, it's the stuff of gaming legend. 
In closing, I do highly recommend Astyanax to the classic gaming community and to fans of the original NES who still push the power button to this day. It's fun and will give you a fun arcade port experience that may or may not be enhanced by the use of the NES Advantage arcade stick. As of this writing the game can be found for as cheap as $3 or so from local video game stores and as cheap as $5 or so on eBay, so give it a whirl and see for yourself if you're up for the challenge. Astyanax is most certainly worth it. And now, the tale of the tape.....

Graphics/Visuals – 9.0
Sound/Music – 8.5
Control/Handling – 8.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 8.5

© 2014 Bill Mulligan


  1. The arcade version was better but the Nintendo version was fun, hard though. Glad there are folks out there who still love the Nintendo :-)

  2. Good read. This game was great in the arcades back in the day, didn't hit the mark on home console though. Felt it was a mediocre game at best.