Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (NES)

Star Trek 25th Anniversary NES title screen
This year is the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest and most enduring science fiction television series ever made... but there's no bloody way I'm playing another Doctor Who game, so instead I'm taking a look at Star Trek 25th Anniversary on the NES.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Christmas and honestly I can't think of a single thing. Well the stars in the background here do look a bit like snowflakes I suppose... also it's the 25th of December today.

I've already played the PC/Amiga game, but this is supposed to be something entirely different; more of an action game than a point and click adventure I'd expect.

The game begins like a typical Star Trek episode, with the crew already on their way to carry out another mission. Except there's no Captain's log to tell me what they're doing.

I assumed the guy in the message box up there was supposed to be some kind of alien who dislocates his whole jaw to talk; the artists taking advantage of their ability to show things they could've never afforded to create on a live action TV show in the 60s. But you know... I'm starting to think that it's meant to be Lieutenant Sulu.

First thing I'm going to do when this intro's over is call Dr McCoy up here to take a look at that.

It's happened to Kirk as well!

You're only asking someone sitting a few feet away from you to ease off on the accelerator mate, you don't have to freak out like it's some huge crisis!

Suddenly the goblin playing the role of Spock interrupts Kirk's over-dramatic line readings to inform him that there's a huge crisis! We're encountering an area of very unstable turbulence! Sensors indicate unusual fluctuations in gravity and magnetic fields.

Technically speaking, what we're facing here is...

Chekov yells Captain. There's a big hole in space.
Yeah, let's just go with that.

There's a big hole in space and it's pulling the ship into it, as space holes often do. There's only one thing you can do in these situations (apart from twist your face into a grotesque expression of pure horror) and that's lock those engines into reverse and hit the gas.

Well it turns out that running the engines full blast against a powerful opposite force is enough to start tearing the ship apart, so Scotty suggests turning the engines off before they melt. Come on man you're announcing the likely imminent destruction of the ship and the deaths of everyone on board, put a bit more emotion into it! Sulu showed more raw terror when he announced that we'd entered the star system.

Kirk's reaction to Scotty's expert advice is of course "Just give us a few more seconds, Mr. Scott", but it's no use. The ship is pulled into the wormhole and deposited outside of known space, thousands of light years from home.

Oh crap, it's turned into Star Trek: Voyager. Cue titles!

Wow, that is actually a really good attempt at Star Trek's opening credits, considering the hardware that it's running on. Unlike the PC CD-ROM game there's no voiced narration, but scrolling text is a fine replacement for William Shatner, and it does have the real theme tune in chip tune form.


Captain's Log, Stardate 2831.3. While investigating the strange gravitational disturbances in the Sigma Iotia system, also known as the Gangster Planet system (don't ask), my ship was unexpectedly caught in a strange gravitational disturbance and dragged into a dimensional gate. Miraculously the ship survived the journey intact, except for the engines which I kind of broke by putting them under immense stress and refusing to let my Chief Engineer turn them off even when the ship was literally coming apart at the seams.

Fortunately it's nothing we can't fix so it's not a total disaster, although we will need to find new dilithium crystals within two hours or else we'll fall out of orbit and explode.

Man, Kirk does not look comfortable in this turbolift right now. Okay I admit, I edited in the eye movement at the end by taking some frames from when Kirk looks over to say his own line, so this is 5% less creepy in the actual game.

Spock has good news! Against all odds he's located a deposit of ultra rare dilithium crystals under an Aztec pyramid style structure on the planet below. Hopefully we won't be running into any vengeful ancient Aztec god-like aliens down there though, as we really don't have the time for that crap right now, what with the ship falling out of the sky.

That is one suspiciously laid-back transporter chief. He's trapped in uncharted space on a broken ship that's out of fuel and tumbling out of orbit, and on top of that he's suddenly become solely responsible for the lives of the three most senior crew members... and yet he gives no fuck. He's just tapping out a happy tune on his matter disintegration console there.

Nice aim Lieutenant, you got us onto the planet. I guess it was too much to hope for that you'd put us inside that Aztec looking building that we came here to search. Though I suppose a walk in the fresh air would do us some good, assuming that this alien atmosphere isn't saturated with some ancient alien techno-virus that converts humanoid flesh into cold soulless metal, or something. Oh shit, it's already got to Spock and McCoy's faces!

Spock whips his tricorder out and gives us some info on what we're dealing with here: there's a large structure about 157.03 meters to the north and a human settlement to the south. I guess that proves Spock does his overly precise number gimmick just to piss McCoy off, seeing as he doesn't seem to think it's even worth knowing how far the village is. I'm getting a strong feeling that's where I should be going first though.

Now that's the walk cycle of a true space explorer and leader of men. Going boldly indeed.

Just try not to look too closely at his neck.

Looks like I've got some options here in my menu as well. I can listen to Spock or McCoy be no use at all, beam back up to the ship empty handed, use an item (if I had any), and switch my phasers from stun to kill full effect. I know it's not very Starfleet of me, but I think I'll flip that phaser switch over just in case.

Agh, and I was trying to be careful as well! McCoy, help us! We've been... shot by this... evil plant. Incredible pain, can't stand! Oh fine, just wait over there then, I'm sure Spock and I will be able to walk the poison off. Right after I've shown this thing the 'full effect' of my phaser pistol that is.

Alright then, back to heading south.

Will you quit doing that already? Seriously, stop freaking out, it's just a normal average space cat for once! It's not going to turn into a sexy female guest star or grow into a giant monster and chase you around a dungeon (in their defence though it happens more than you'd think).

They do this whenever I start walking in a direction by the way, even if blocked by a cat and I'm not actually moving.

I think McCoy's saying more with his reaction than with his words here. I'm starting to wonder if the artist originally drew these frames to be a set of different expressions, before the programmer realised he could cycle through them to make it look like the characters were reading out the text... kind of.

Some of the people in the village give me messages when I walk by like "The Medicine Man can prepare you for safe passage through the forest" and "Stay away from the blood worms in the Dark Forest." But it takes a second or two for the message box to appear so I'm often half a screen away before I realise that someone's talking to me. Shame I don't get a chance to say anything myself.

Also I'm starting to become concerned about how many cats there are around this place. Is it the village of the cat people or something?

Oh, well I guess that clears that up.

Surprisingly, the village elder or medicine man or whatever has no problem with telling us exactly how to get into the temple and doesn't seem too bothered about what we're planning to do in there. It's apparently not a particularly holy place for them.

They know about a druid who used to pray there for good weather, but he was killed three years ago by a swamp beast, and he had the only key on him, so that's as good as lost as far as they're concerned.

Alright then, we shall go north to the swamp!


A FEW SCREENS NORTH.


Agh, what the fuck man? This worm's almost as dangerous as those leeches at the start of Another World. It's too small to hit with my phaser, and it can crawl right through the thick bushes so there's no hiding from it. As soon as I get back on my feet I'm just going to make a run for it.

Aw crap, there was another worm hidden behind the tree leaves. You can't see it right now because I'm hidden behind the leaves as well. This it why it's not considered good game design to obscure half the playfield you guys! But I'm still going, I've apparently got a few hit points left and I'd totally outrun these things if I could just stop making mistakes for a minute or two.

Nope, it wasn't to be.

The captain is gravely injured, returning to Enterprise.

Well at least Kirk wasn't killed. I guess that privilege is reserved for the red shirt security officers.

I can spin the camera around the bridge to look at all the different stations, but it seems like the only way to access any of their functions is to use this menu instead. I say 'access', all selecting one of my crew members really does is bring up a message telling me something I already know. There's also a beam down button to get back to the level, a communications button to talk to all the people in range (which is no one), a red alert button and a save button (that is actually a password button in disguise.)

Oh, plus there's a map button it seems. I doubt the ship's capable of interstellar travel if we can't even maintain orbit, but it doesn't hurt to check where we actually ended up after the trip through the wormhole.

Oh. I guess all we know so far is that we've ended up in the ass end of uncharted space. Guess I'd better hurry up and find those dilithium crystals so I can investigate these other worlds for clues.

Hey, I can choose who I bring down with me! Well McCoy was absolutely no use during all those times I got injured so I can't see why I shouldn't swap him out with a geologist. I am looking for crystals after all. Though maybe a historian would know something about Aztec temples. And a biologist would perhaps have some insight into how to dodge evil worms... oh fuck it, y'all know who I'm really taking with me.


TWO MINUTES LATER.


Alas poor red shirt, but better him than me. He was pretty useful though when I was fighting the shooty plants, as he ran in and shot them for me whenever I started firing my phaser. I didn't even have to be facing an enemy, he knew it was go time and lined himself up with the target to finish the job himself.

Well that's it, I'm stuck. I've searched the far corners of the map available to me and all I've found are cat villagers and impassable worms. I'm very tempted to turn it off right here, but I should probably go check a walkthrough and see what I'm missing first. I can't quit until I've finished the first planet at least.


A BIT OF RESEARCH LATER.


Well it turns out that I was supposed to stun a plant, then go over and grab it while it's helpless. Not really sure how I was supposed to know that though.

Yeah thanks for that Spock, but I wanted to pick the thing up, not to hear your absolutely useless assessment of the situation yet again.

Star Trek 25th Anniversary NES game tricorder screen
Okay this is new. I think this means I've managed to get the plant this time. Now I have to take it to the village Medicine Man.

The plant is an ingredient in worm repellent you see. With this stuff in my inventory those little blighters will think twice about swarming me next time.

By the way, the Medicine Man here actually explains all of this clearly the first time you go to speak with him. The problem I had was... I kinda completely overlooked his hut earlier and missed out on meeting the guy. In my defence, all the buildings in this place look nearly identical on the outside, so I honestly thought it was somewhere I'd already been.

But yeah, this one's my fault; the game played fair.


ONE WORMY DARK FOREST MAZE LATER.


Well there's the temple entrance. Not much good to me now though as I still need that druid's key to get inside it, which is in the swamp. Where the swamp is though, I have no bloody idea. I barely even know where I am, except that I'm 154.6 meters north from where I first beamed down.

Next time I meet up with the primitive cat villagers I'm going to have to introduce them to the concept of maps. Maybe even teach them the principles of humanity's advanced 'sign post' technology.


EVENTUALLY.



After wandering around the maze-like Dark Forest for a while I eventually discovered the path leading to this swamp! And the swamp turned out to be another maze!

Yes thanks Spock I think I understand the principle at work here. If I shoot an animal with my phaser on stun, the animal ends up stunned. Assuming I'm precisely lined up with them either horizontally or vertically of course.

These small yellow creatures jump out of the water and run at me every once in a while, but mostly this has been an uneventful hike. I've just been walking up the screen, trying every path each time until I find the one that takes me closer to where I want to be. Well, closer to the top right corner of the area anyway.

Alright I've found the key, now I have to creep up and very carefully lift it out of the swamp monster's lair. Aaaaaaaand... I've got it!

Wow that was really simple, I was expecting a boss fight, or some kind of complication at least. Though I suppose finding my way back might be complicated enough.


SOON.


Fortunately I got careless during the arduous and tedious journey back and Kirk ended up gravely injured, giving me a free transport up to the ship and out of the swamps. When I transported back to the shooty plant woods I found I had the key and repellent still on me, so there was nothing stopping me from heading up through the Dark Forest unhindered by worms to unlock that temple door.

Now I'm inside the temple, in a long corridor covered in symbols. Spock thinks they're some kind of code, but then of course he'd think that. Well I'm not sure what I can do about that info really except take a few screenshots, stitch them together like so, and then move on.


A COUPLE OF ROOMS LATER.


Well this is different; there's symbols on the floor in this room.

My first thought was that I'm supposed to walk across the group of three symbols that matches a group of three I saw on the walls, either the left path or the right path each time. But none of them match so that doesn't work. As an experiment I tried picking a side at random and walking up, and ended up with a dart in the gut for my foolishness. Though I did make up to the the next row.

Fortunately I had better luck with my next wild guess. I stepped across the symbols in the order that I saw them on the walls and that worked out just fine, for the first three of these rooms anyway.

Yep I have to keep doing this for at least four rooms in a row, just to make absolutely certain I get the concept. Annoyingly I didn't make absolutely certain to screenshot every single wall on the way here so I didn't know the final code to get through, and I couldn't be bothered to re-enter the three rooms worth of code I'd already put in, backwards, to get outside again and check. So I threw Kirk into the wrong tiles until he succumbed to multiple dart wounds and had to be evaced to the ship.

I guess that the player is meant to be writing the code down on paper, but if that's the case they really could've picked some easier symbols to draw. Still it could've been worse: they could've used these for the password system too.

By the way, if you're a classic rock fan you might have noticed something a little familiar about these particular symbols, as together they form the name of a famous album also known as Led Zeppelin IV. So either the aliens who built this temple were Led Zep fans, or we have finally stumbled across the band's long lost homeworld.

And so with the puzzle solved I'm allowed through to the temple's control center... which is activated by another bloody symbol puzzle. This time though, there's a twist!

Actually I'm lying, there's no twist. I typed in what I saw written on the walls and went through the the next room.

Whoa, we've hit the motherlode! Five massive stacks of dilithium crystals, enough to get the warp drive back on line so we can start the journey back home. With the information retrieved from the temple's computer we might even have an idea which way home is.

Considering how valuable these crystals are and how immensely and entirely screwed they are without them, I'm kind of surprised that Kirk only beams back to the ship with one pile of crystal. It seems he thinks it's important to keep this facility running on at least 4/5th's power even though he has no idea if it even does anything. Maybe he's worried that the druid was right and it actually is a weather control station, which I suppose is a fair concern.

Anyway the end result is we've got one low grade crystal so we should really go find some more.

Okay, so here's the journey ahead then. I'm orbiting the planet to the bottom left and home lies just yonder past that Neutral Zone. But first I have to sneak through the entire Romulan Empire. It's only an act of war if they catch us doing it.

First stop though I think should be the planet to my right. Spock says that it's barren, empty and a waste of time, but he's always been a pessimist. I reckon there's bound to be something down there and I'm kinda hoping I'm not burning through a finite fuel supply just to find out.


ANOTHER (SKIPPABLE) TURBOLIFT AND TRANSPORTER ROOM SEQUENCE LATER.


Oh cheer up Spock you were right. Again. This planet is a miserable, dilithiumless waste of our time. Though it's also a good place to turn the game off I reckon.

Uh.... here, have a free password as a reward for your patience.


At first I thought Star Trek: 25th Anniversary was going to turn out to be all about flying across the star map, shooting guns and chatting with the natives, kind of like a NES ancestor of Mass Effect. But after playing it a while I definitely got the impression that the shooting was just a way to pad out the adventure gameplay a little. Most of what I was doing was getting hold of items and walking around a maze to take them somewhere else.

Some of the visuals are pretty decent for a NES game, with trees and grass waving in the breeze and the Enterprise herself wooshing all over the screen. On the other hand the characters have to really strain their faces to get the words out and their walk cycles look a bit wonky. The music's a little painful to listen to at times, but it sounds a lot like what you'd expect the NES version of a Star Trek episode to sound like so I can't really complain there. In fact I'm sure they took most/all of the tunes right from the original series' soundtracks.

After the first hour or so I've got to say that I'm not impressed. I didn't hate the game but it didn't exactly grab me either. Given the choice, I'd probably go with the PC/Amiga game instead. There's less walking, the red shirt deaths are more interesting, and it gives you the option to have Kirk straight up insult the people he's been sent to help out. With full voices. By the actual cast.

Another year, another terrible choice for a Christmas Day game (it didn't even have any snow), but in the spirit of the season why not give me some feedback and leave a comment about the game, my writing or my humble website? You don't even have to gift wrap it, just use the message box below.

Oh, also Merry Christmas! Or whatever alternative significance the day holds for you!

2 comments:

  1. This review was the best Christmas present I got. Unless you count my other present, two pairs of sweatpants from my mother, any real threat. Merry Christmas, man.

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  2. I want to point out that not only do the four runes from Led Zeppelin's fourth album, each representing one of the four members of Led Zeppelin, appear here as you noted, but the other two are the zeppelin itself (likely the Hindenburg, which they used as their debut album cover) and the wheatfield symbols purportedly made by aliens (and used for their Remasters boxed set compilation cover).

    That was one sentence, too long and too late.

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