Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Nostalgic Top Gun Review for the Nintendo NES

My latest book, The NES Omnibus Vol. 2 (M-Z), features what I call Insider Insights, which are reflections, reviews, and nostalgic stories about many of the games, written by industry professionals. As many of you know, each game gets an entire page or more, and these stories do a great job of bringing the culture surrounding these games to life. My buddy Kale Menges wrote the following about Top Gun, a beloved game for the NES that many, many kids and adults bought, rented, or borrowed from friends back in the day. Enjoy!

Insider Insight: When I was around eight or nine, I thought there was nothing cooler than fighter pilots and the machinery they flew in. Even at that young age, I'd already seen the movie Top Gun countless times. It was like X-Wings and TIE Fighters, only real (per se). One Saturday morning during this era, my dad came home with a small bundle of NES cartridges after scouting pawnshops for yard tools. I was super excited because the bundle included Top Gun.

Top Gun wasn't the greatest flight simulator, and even by NES standards it felt a little barebones. Compared to the game's 1989 sequel, it definitely feels more like a prototype than a full-fledged game. Regardless, we enjoyed it immensely. The game's opening used a nice rendition of the movie's theme music, lending the action some authenticity. The core gameplay was solid and challenging, to the point I don’t remember getting past the fourth or fifth mission.

I do remember, though, the infamous landing sequence and the bragging rights that came with consistently landing the F-14 on the carrier deck instead of just exploding in the water. That part of the game was legitimately stressful and nerve-racking (note: it still is), and now after working as a game developer, I've come to suspect that there was certainly some kind of “dice roll” occurring under the hood to determine your success regardless of how precisely you followed the on-screen instructions during the sequence—the margin of error for your plane's altitude and airspeed never seems to be the same twice. I thought it was funny that, while the aerial combat was more engaging when played with a joystick controller like the Advantage or Quickshot, landing felt easier with the d-pad. - Kale Menges, Artist and Game Developer

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