Saturday, December 11, 2021

Magmax (NES)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
4 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nichibutsu
Published by FCI in 1988

The NES was home to many games that didn't really have a proper ending, choosing instead to repeat themselves forever in neverending loops designed to either crush, tire or bore players to death. Magmax is one such example, but let it be known that this looping structure is actually derived from the original arcade version. The game is also a spiritual sequel to Seicross (or Sector Zone), even though it doesn't achieve the same gameplay excellence as far as NES adaptations go. In fact, chances are you'll be as bored as I was when playing it. There are far better shmup entries in Nintendo's 8-bit console, that's for sure.

Magmax invites shmuppers to embark on another sci-fi adventure by allowing them to build upon a bare bones spaceship in order to turn it into a badass robot. This robot is the last hope of the human race and bla-bla-bla, with the sad realization that he will never actually fulfill his mission due to the everlasting nature of the game, a seamless amalgam of four different areas that repeat over and over with a difficulty slope that only starts to get taxing by the third loop.

A quest to defeat the first mechanical monster Babylon
(courtesy of YouTube user nesguide)

Shooting is accomplished with any desired button (A or B) in the controller. Mashing the button won't produce outstanding results because the firing rate is severely capped, but a turbo controller certainly helps to alleviate the stress on the player's wrist nonetheless. The main objective is to collect the robot parts spread out along the way, which consist of the torso, the legs and a special cannon that can only be activated after you have at least collected the torso. Each added body part adds a bit of extra firepower but increases the hitbox a huge deal, thus making it harder to keep the robot in one piece. The good news is that getting hit just destroys a body part instead of killing you right away (you only lose a life if you're hit with the bare ship).

There are two playing fields in Magmax, a surface area and an underground area. Once the small ship is thrown into the action you appear over the surface, and to travel between these areas all you have to do is touch the icon for the oval transport tunnel. In the surface area the robot/ship glides over the terrain destroying ground targets, whereas the undeground parts play like a regular horizontal shooter with flying enemies and obstacles detaching from the ground and the ceiling. Even though there's no division between levels, there are four distinct areas to go through before you loop the game: plains, desert, water and machine city. The underground area does not change from plains to desert and takes place inside a cave.

A mechanical dragon with multiple heads called Babylon is the only boss that appears at the end of the desert and the machine city areas. During the levels the action is based on destroying all kinds of drones and creatures arriving in waves, but the scrolling on the surface is a little faster and harder than in the underground, mainly because you only get a single firing stream even when in complete robot form (on the surface the cannon turns into a laser that points down instead of shooting forward). Nevertheless the cannon does offer an advantage because it can destroy all indestructible obstacles both above and below ground.

Inside the machine city undergrounds

Despite the potential variety hinted by the dynamics of playing in two different fields, there's no escaping the fact that Magmax is extremely drab and repetitive. It is however relatively faithful to the arcade original considering the system's capabilities (the impressive ground parallax of the surface areas are of course absent on the NES). It's also quite an easy game in the first couple of loops, after that the robot parts don't come so often and the marginal increase in enemy aggression starts to impose a litle more pressure on players who are patient enough to get that far. If you're wondering about the music, different tunes play for surface and underground areas but sadly none of them are engaging enough.

On the scoring side Magmax is quite straightforward, yet you can exploit some aspects of the game to get a few more points, such as using the debris of the exploding bombs on the surface or the spikes from the underground sections to get extra 1.000 points from each enemy you destroy with them. The first extend is registered at 30.000 points, and each further one is granted with every 50.000 points. There's a faint sound cue that plays when the extend is achieved.

My demise in the high score below happened in stage 4-4. Weird note: as soon as I entered the fourth loop my score display was replaced by the word MEIGETSU, but soon got back to normal when I died.

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