Retro Video Game Review: Athena (Nes)

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Overall Rating: 0.5/5 Stars

In 1987, developer SNK produced the video game Athena for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a one-player two-dimensional platformer, representing a genre that posed an alluring condundrum for any company, since it was the most common gameplay type yet thus also requiring the most innovation to hold player interest and stand out among the hordes of competing titles. Did Athena succeed?

Gameplay

The player controls protagonist character Athena, a Greek goddess who is apparently on a mission to slaughter every living creature she encounters. This itself is not unusual for the platforming genre, but does seem strange when Athena is portrayed on the title screen as a pretty young girl wearing a pink spaghetti-strap tanktop, complete with some cleavage. This classy visual is the first sign that the player is in for a unique experience; the second signal, perhaps, is the fact that the demo video (the gameplay sample that plays if you wait on the title screen) is terrible, not showing any viable tactics whatsoever, and even the computer dies at the first enemy.

This video game at least gets the basic controls correct: The A button jumps, the B button attacks. Athena’s jumps can be one of two different heights, one much higher than the other, and there is no discernible way to control which one will occur when the A button is pressed. Athena’s attack consists of either kicking her foot or swinging a weapon she picks up.

The pick-ups seem to be the key to this game. Throughout the adventure, as Athena defeats enemies, they may drop weapons or armor. Athena can then pick up the item and use it, including weapons that can bash walls in addition to increasing her attack range and power. There is one rather critical flaw with this set-up, though: Without any selectable inventory system whatsoever, the player is left at the whim of using whatever item was last picked up. Perhaps the game is best experienced as a stealth-tactics simulator when the ideal configuration is obtained, because from then on, any defeated enemy represents the possibility of gaining an inferior item instead. At certain portions of the game, it is actually possible to get permanently stuck by smashing blocks into an area only to subsequently lose block-breaking capability.

Athena battles her way through the usual array of stereotypical levels (the first stage, like in so many other platformer cartridges, is the forest level) while mindless killing enemies and occasionally reaking blocks. Between the randomness of the jump strength and the capricious nature of item use, it truly seems like this video game was intentionally designed to not be fun, and to eliminate control, which goes against the very core of the idea of gaming.

At least there is a life bar, representing this title’s sole indication of having mercy on its player. There is also a continue function, but nobody cares, because no sane human being would ever want to continue playing this game.

Graphics

This game looks terrible. That is neither exaggeration or hyperbole: Not only are the graphics rife with delay, freeze, flash, and flicker problems, but the characters are rendered in an odd cartoon-like style with cutesy, big heads and blurry, non-detailed bodies. The backgrounds are horrible, and many of the elements look like very basic digital drawings that could have been done by a child. Again, that is not in any way a stretch of the imagination, that is the truth: This video game does not appear to have been drawn by gaming development professional. This video game looks like the aborted student project in coding class by a high schooler who never paid attention. Even some of the basic sprite animations that would seem critical are cripplingly flawed, which the player can notice whenever Athena holds, swings, or crouches while wielding a weapon. Considering that holding an “upgraded” weapon would seem rather central to the gameplay of Athena, one would think they would have polished that aspect of the game until it was perfected. The fact that this function remains unfinished speaks profoundly to the incompetence behind this 8-bit abomination.

Sound

The music is horrific, like the “composers” took lessons from the Tagin’ Dragon title screen. The notes are crudely digitized without refinement. The result is something like a monkey screech fed through a speaker filter until its brutish attempts at “notes” sound more like a mockery of a “song” designed to torture people than as the true background tracks they should be. The sound effects are either bizarrely absent or outright intrusive. Nobody who was involved with the making of this video game could have had any experience whatsoever with game design before. It is impossible to create a game with features this bad unless they were first-time nobodies who did not know any better and were ignorant from the start.

Originality

The concepts of picking up weapons for instant replacement, gaining armor through walk-overs, simplistic screen-wipe transitions, randomized jump height, and cutesy visuals used to convey Greek mythology are all original ideas. Unfortunately, they are also foolish, regrettable, absurd ideas. Athena picks up a half star out of five.

For other detailed reviews of NES games both awesome and awful, check out NintendoLegend.com.

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