Silver Surfer (Software Creations, 1990)
As a kid, I faded in and out of the comic book thing. Storylines changed rapidly, and it always seemed like they were in the middle of one when I'd jump back in. I always liked the characters, however, especially the really colorful (and powerful) entities in Marvel's “cosmic” setting. One of the titles I often checked in with was Fantastic Four, and they were always out in space dealing with malevolent living planets or matter-consuming mega-giants bent on subjugating Earth. The FF had some allies out there too, and one of the more interesting ones to me was Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer.
Silver Surfer had his own comic book, but would show up elsewhere pretty regularly. He became the herald of Galactus to save his lover's life when his world was claimed by Galactus, then turned on the planet-gobbling demigod when the crosshairs were set on Earth. Obviously there's tons more that could be said, but I'm not an expert. I know he holds the Power Cosmic, which makes him sort of like a shiny version of DC's Superman with a cool surfboard. He's a cosmic badass, is the point, and he belongs out there in space where things get heavy constantly.
Silver Surfer got his own NES game in 1990, and it's a divisive subject among retro gaming fans. Some of them think it does the character no justice, not to even mention its incredible difficulty. There are many who do like it, including myself, but even I won't say it's a classic. What I will say is that it has its merits.
The game plays like a shoot-em-up more than anything else. In fact, that's pretty much what it is, alternating from side-scrolling to top-down depending on the stage you're in but maintaining the same formula regardless. The story is pretty stock and simple: you, the Surfer, have been summoned by Galactus to retrieve some kind of Cosmic Device to combat the intrusion of the Magick Realm upon reality. Of course, the device is in pieces, each one held by a different villain somewhere in space. You get to choose which order you do the levels in, kind of like Mega Man. Finishing each stage involves avoiding some pretty heinous obstacles while shooting enemies with silver pellets. You can collect little spheres that act as an extra shooter for you, so you're firing two or three pellets at once. You can also get extra bombs, which are helpful since they clear the screen. Anyone familiar with the shmup genre will tell you that clearing the screen is helpful, since a common tactic for ramping up difficulty is to cram it full of things trying to kill you all at once. And trust me, there's plenty of that going on. For a guy with the Power Cosmic, Silver Surfer sure has a lot of cosmic things willing and able to murder him at a moment's notice in this game.
From the gruesome to the weird, mundane or cosmic, you can't say the game doesn't at least LOOK cool.
I'll be honest, the only boss character I recognize in the regular stages is Mephisto, because he's basically Marvel Comics' Satan. I never heard of the other ones before, but they check out. The boss of the Magik Realm is pretty clearly Mr. Sinister, a villain who apparently later downgraded to picking on the X-Men. None of the bosses are terribly hard, but getting to them is. In typical shoot-em-up fashion, you often find your attention divided evenly between clearing a path with your weapons and avoiding frequent pile-ups that can lead to instant death. There's a lot of narrow dodging, and having those extra sphere-things to provide you a wider swathe is crucial to survival. Dying once means you have to build your arsenal back up from scratch, and it can be frustrating.
The graphics are pretty good, and in fact there's a lot of background visuals that are praiseworthy in their detail and effect. The music, though, is what this game is held high for (when it's held high at all). Composed by Tim and Geoff Follin, the score is a thrilling combination of breakneck prog-rock goodness and flowing melody. In an era when Konami and Sunsoft were using proprietary cartridge-mounted add-ons to augment the NES's sound suite, this soundtrack gets tons of bump and spank out of what's already there. I highly encourage you to take a listen!
I'm going to rate this game differently than others; I'm giving Silver Surfer as a whole 6/10, but its music gets a 10/10. The game itself is a decent addition to the shooter genre that I feel gets a bum rap, but I will admit that it's a tad on the ridiculous side. What really saves it is the soundtrack, which is mind-blowing.