Shatterhand
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publishers:
    • JP Angel
    • US Jaleco
    • UK Jaleco
  • Released:
    • JP 10/26/1991
    • US December 1991
    • UK 11/19/1992
Score: 90%

This review was published on 11/09/2016.

Shatterhand is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Natsume for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on October 26, 1991, North America in December 1991, and Europe on November 19, 1992. Jaleco published the game in North America and Europe and Angel published it in Japan. Now defunct, Angel was a subsidiary of Bandai that specialized in the publication of licensed titles. The original Japanese version of the game was based on a television show that aired in Japan similar to the Power Rangers called Super Rescue Solbrain. All references to the show were removed in the North American and European versions of the game. As a result of that, the story and some of the graphics differ between the Famicom and NES versions of the game, though they're still both largely the same. In any case, this is easily one of the NES' best games.

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In the North America and European versions of the game, the story is as follows: it's the year 2030 and a group of military renegades known as Metal Command are causing chaos across the globe. Led by General Gus Grover, the militants seek to construct an army of cyborg soldiers to conquer the world. During a skirmish with members from Metal Command, a young police officer from the Bronx named Steve Hermann loses both of his arms. Afterwards, Hermann is offered two cybernetic arms to replace the ones he lost, courtesy of the Law and Order Regulatory Division, otherwise known as L.O.R.D. Hermann accepts and becomes an agent codenamed Shatterhand, who is now on a revenge mission to take down Metal Command. As previously mentioned, the Japanese version of the game follows the story of the Super Rescue Solbrain TV show, so it's completely different. Not that the story really matters in a game like this.

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Games released late into the NES' lifespan tend to be far technologically superior to the ones that came out early in the system's existence. That fact is made quite evident with this game. The graphics are out of this world for an NES game, with highly detailed backgrounds, foregrounds, and character sprites. Further, some parts of the game make an impressive use of parallax scrolling for the backgrounds, something the NES didn't do a whole lot of. The color palette is also quite good, though some later NES titles do outshine it in this department, like Mr. Gimmick and Kirby's Adventure. Still, there aren't many other NES games that look this good, and even less that look better. The music is no slouch, either, featuring a slew of catchy tunes that'll be sure to catch your attention. Really, the only technological misstep this game makes is that it occasionally slows down and has some sprite flickering when there's too much action. However, that is a rare occurrence.

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Left and right on the d-pad walks you in those directions, down ducks and also activates certain power-up platforms, and pressing up near grates in the background allows you to hold onto them. As for the buttons, the A button makes you jump and the B button is used to punch stuff. The controls are tight, like, real tight. Everything is so responsive and precise that every mistake you make always feels like it's totally on you. Punching stuff also feels extremely satisfying, as enemies will be launched far away by your fists before exploding, and you can even blow up walls with your bare hands. Even cooler than that is the fact that you can literally punch most bullets out of the air. If that's not awesome, then I don't know what is. The game isn't called Shatterhand for nothing. There is a single drawback to your mighty fists, and it's that they've got really limited range. This can be compensated for through the use of power-ups, though.

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One of the game's main highlights is its unique power-up system. Breaking certain crates will reveal special icons shaped like the alpha and beta letters from the Greek alphabet. You can switch the icon from alpha and beta by punching it, though punching it too much will turn it into a big coin. Every time you collect one of these Greek letters, it gets stored in a little box at the top of the screen, and once you've gathered three, they'll combine to assemble a tiny hovering robot that'll follow you wherever you go. The robot attacks whenever you do, and if you hold the A button and press down, it'll lift you off the ground, allowing you to hover. While you're hovering with your robotic friend, you can press the B button to launch it into enemies, but you'll lose the robot if you miss. Speaking of, your robotic pal can also take damage, and it'll eventually blow up if it takes too much punishment. You'll want to avoid that at all costs, as these guys are super useful.

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Depending on the combination of letters, you'll get a different robot with a unique attack. For example, one robot is equipped with a laser rifle, another has a beam sword, and there's even one armed with a flamethrower. Some robots are better suited for certain situations than others, like there's one that throws a grenade in a downward arc, making it good for targeting enemies that are beneath you. For the most part, these robots are the only way you'll have access to projectiles, which is what makes them so useful. There are eight possible combinations, so plenty of experimentation is needed to find the robot that's right for you. It's a bit hard to memorize all the combinations, though. Also, if you manage to get the same letter combo twice while the robot is present, your character will combine with the robot for a short period of time. This temporary form gives you a powerful projectile punch attack and makes you invincible. All in all, this power-up mechanic is innovative and awesome.

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Throughout the game, you'll be collecting gold coins, which are usually found inside of breakable boxes, though sometimes eliminated enemies will drop them. In the Japanese version, you collect power chips instead of gold. These collectible items aren't just for show; you can use them as a currency to buy additional power-ups at certain spots. Every so often, there'll be special platforms that'll exchange the listed amount of coins for the listed power-up if you crouch over them. These power-ups include a temporary boost to your attack power, health restoration, and extra lives. Each power-up costs a different amount of money, with the attack power boost costing the least and extra lives being the most expensive. Don't think this means that the game encourages grinding, though, because every power-up platform can only be used once and no backtracking is allowed. The idea is to make quick decisions on whether to use a given power-up platform or to pass it up so you can hoard your cash for something more crucial later on. It's a pretty neat system that adds depth to the game without slowing it down.

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After beating the first stage, you'll be taken to a stage select screen like in the Mega Man games. Similar to Castlevania, a lot of thought was put into the stage design, with careful placement of enemies and obstacles. You'll often have to take it slow, approaching each situation with the mind of a strategist and the precision of a surgeon. The environments are varied and unique, like a cave with falling boulders, a burning city that's being carpet bombed as you traverse it, and a forest facility with icy floors. One stage was a carnival in the Japanese version, but it was changed into a submarine in the North American and European releases. Most stages introduce new gimmicks, but the gimmicks are never too intrusive. For instance, one stage has you breaking open capsules to reveal these gigantic, malformed creatures that you then must put out of their misery. Another stage has anti-gravity segments where you walk on the ceiling. Upon clearing all five stages from the stage select, you'll be taken to the last leg of the game, where things truly get hard. It's a good thing this game has infinite continues, because you'll need them.

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Like practically every video game ever made, there is a boss at the end of every stage. All bosses have very distinct attack patterns that must be fully deciphered in order to even stand a chance against them. Some of them are creative, such as this one boss that's fought underwater who'll switch between shooting you with a gun and slashing you with a beam saber. There's another boss wielding a katana blade that'll challenge you to a fight while riding on an elevator. Then there's a boss that'll climb walls while you climb grates. The only issue with the bosses is that they can be next to impossible to beat if you don't have a robot around. However, if you're good enough to make it to a boss with the temporary invincibility from the combined robot form, you'll totally trivialize the fight. This is more of a reward for smart play than an oversight, as pulling this off requires special planning. It's worth it, though, because the bosses are fairly challenging.

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This game earns high marks in all categories; spectacular graphics, fantastic music, radical stages, cool bosses, and great game play. The robotic pet system is also really nifty. While it was tragically ignored during its release, nowadays most people within the retro gaming community are keenly aware of this game's existence. That's a good thing, because this game kicks copious amounts of butt. If you're looking for one of the finest action games on the NES, then look no further than Shatterhand. It's so good that it may shatter your hand.

Word Count: 1,660

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