Power Blade
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publisher:
    • Taito
  • Released:
    • US March 1991
    • UK 01/23/1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 12/06/2016.

Power Blade is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Natsume and published by Taito Corporation for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in North America in March 1991 and Europe on January 23, 1992. The game was also released in Japan on April 20, 1990, where it was known as Power Blazer. However, the Japanese version is vastly different from the North American and European release. In fact, it's so different that it's essentially a different game altogether. Most of the enemies, bosses, and music are the same, but all the stages were completely overhauled, the main character was changed from a cartoon-like robot to an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike, the story is different, and many of the core mechanics were altered. Due to those differences, this review will be focusing exclusively on Power Blade. Out of the two versions, Power Blade is much better than Power Blazer, because most of the changes improve on the original game, like the addition of life bars for the bosses.

Image

In the year of 2191, Earth's blissful existence was governed by a powerful Master Computer. Then, one day, something went horribly wrong! Aliens infiltrated the Master Computer and made its Master Control Program malfunction, causing chaos to ensue across the globe. Computers always ruin everything. NOVA, wielder of an ancient boomerang known as the Power Blade, is summoned to handle the crisis. In order to accomplish such a daunting task, NOVA must gather six security tape units from the six sectors surrounding the Master Computer. The point of the tape units is to disarm the six sectors, allowing NOVA to gain access to the Control Center, where he'll be tasked with destroying the Master Computer in hopes of restoring some semblance of order to society. Along the way, he'll also have to exterminate the alien menace that caused all the trouble in the first place. It's always aliens. Maybe they should build a wall around Earth.

Image

You control NOVA's highly masculine body by pressing directions on the d-pad. Left or right makes him walk in those directions, down makes him duck, and up is mostly used to climb ladders. Pressing the A button will make NOVA jump, and the B button throws his boomerang. The boomerang can be thrown up or down if those directions are held on the d-pad as you press the B button, but throwing downwards only works when NOVA's off the ground. You can even throw it in diagonals! When thrown, your boomerang will return to you, unless it hits a wall or enemy, which would cause it to disappear instead. Even if that happens, though, you can always throw another one. Additionally, you can push the start button to switch between equipping hand grenades that damage all enemies on the screen or rations that replenish your health, and you use these items by pressing select. All in all, the controls feel good and are straightforward. This version of the game also controls better than Power Blazer, as NOVA can run faster, jump farther, attack more rapidly, and aim in more directions than the dude from Power Blazer.

Image

At the top of the screen, you'll spot the power meter. This baby is pretty important, as it determines the maximum distance thrown boomerangs will travel. However, tossing a boomerang empties the power meter, and it'll take a second or so to refill. Boomerangs thrown before the meter has completely refilled won't travel their maximum distance, but they can still do some damage. Initially, you'll only be able to throw one boomerang at a time, and the meter starts out small, but both of those things can be increased through the acquisition of certain power-ups. Along with increasing meter size and throwing distance, there's also a power-up that ups the damage output of your boomerangs. The best power-up is a robotic suit that allows NOVA to shoot powerful energy waves able to penetrate through solid objects, and also shields him from three hits before getting destroyed. Overall, the power-ups do their job well, and there are more of them than in Power Blazer.

Image

Like Mega Man, the game immediately opens with a stage select screen. It's actually possible to exit and reenter stages, though it's never necessary. Anyway, unlike the original Power Blazer, the objective of each stage is to locate an agent, get their ID card, and then use it to unlock the security door elsewhere in the stage to fight the boss. As a result of that, some of the stages can be confusing to navigate, and it's especially frustrating if you have to backtrack due to finding the door before the agent. Thankfully, most of the stages are pretty straightforward, and both the security door and agent are usually very easy to find. Further, the agent is almost always placed earlier in the stage than the door, so it's unlikely you'll miss him or her. There's also usually a shortcut to earlier portions of the stage in the unlikely event you miss the agent. Besides, this gives the player more of a motivation to fully explore the stages, and that's a plus.

Image

As the previous paragraph pointed out, the stage design in this game is ever so slightly nonlinear. Each stage has multiple paths, usually with one leading to the agent and another leading to the security door. There are also occasionally paths that lead to power-ups such as the power suit and delicious life rations. This gives the game a slight exploratory feel, but it never quite reaches the seemingly endless labyrinths of Metroid, so you'll never get lost. One issue that didn't exist in Power Blazer is that you die whenever you fall off screen, even if it isn't a bottomless pit. The only way to avoid death when transitioning between screens vertically is by using a ladder. This hampers the exploration somewhat, plus it's just really annoying. If it's normally your reflex in Mega Man games to drop off ladders to save time, then you'll have plenty of accidental deaths in this game, as doing that here will get you killed. That aside, the lightweight exploration is fun, especially when you discover a cool power-up.

Image

Lots of environments are represented here, most of which are rendered in fairly decent graphics. There's a stage where you climb up a stationed rocket, another aboard a stationed ship, one where you're walking along beautiful waterfalls, and more. Many of the backgrounds are rather detailed and boast nice animations, such as the aforementioned waterfall area, a place with Castlevania-like gears that rotate, and an indoor garden with grass and plant life that sway in the wind. Some of the background tiles are the same as Soul Blazer, but they still look great. The enemy and character sprites are big and detailed, too. However, some areas have no backgrounds whatsoever, simply opting for a boring black screen instead. These occasional visual blemishes stand out like a sore thumb given how good the rest of the game looks. On the other hand, the music has no such dips in quality, being excellent all throughout the adventure. It was composed by the wonderful Kinuyo Yamashita, who's famous for doing the amazing soundtrack to the original Castlevania on the NES.

Image

This game is much easier than Power Blazer. It's also much easier than most NES games. One could argue that this game is a little too easy. Aside from there being little challenge in the stages themselves, most bosses can be obliterated in seconds by simply spamming boomerangs with no regard for your safety. The game also has unlimited continues and even a password system. Perhaps due to the easiness, this game has multiple difficulty modes, which Power Blazer lacked. There are two difficulty modes; Normal and Expert. The main difference between them is the time limit, which is another thing Power Blazer didn't have. Normally, you have more than ample time to complete each stage, but Expert mode gives you a much tighter time limit. Even so, the game honestly isn't much tougher on Expert mode. The easy difficulty kind of works to the game's credit, though, because it lets players focus more on the exploration.

Image

Without a doubt, this is one of the better games in the NES' gargantuan library. It may be a little on the short and easy side, but that does not take away from its quality. Decent graphics, excellent music, and entertaining game play are some of this game's achievements. Boomerangs are always fun to use in video games, and this game gives you one as your main weapon. Plowing through enemies with the robotic power suit is also super satisfying. While it can sometimes be irritating, the mixture of lightweight exploration and straightforward action is also pretty sweet. Power Blade will make you feel powerful.

Word Count: 1,480

Tweet