Retro Profile: Predator (NES)

Most movie enthusiasts enjoy a good action flick to keep them occupied for 2 hours or so. When Predator was released in theaters, it was a summer box office hit that gave the viewers what anyone would want to see back in 1987. You had Arnold Schwarzenegger with a team heavily armed soldiers faced with the fight of their lives against an invisible alien warrior seeking a worthy opponent to kill. Put it all together and you get a movie with bullets flying, projectiles slicing people in the dome, and lots of stuff blowing up. In the end, the movie made millions, and it was time for the gaming industry to get a piece of the wealth.
Of the many game developers out there, Pack-In-Video got the license to make the Predator video game for the NES/Famicom, which was published through Activision for the US release. While the movie thrilled audiences everywhere, unsuspecting kids (and their parents) were screwed out of 50 bucks. After you press start, soon the frustration will begin.

One of the two major problems with this game is the fact that the action going on has seemingly little to do with the movie of which it was supposed to be based off. This is mostly due to the odd ensemble of enemies and obstacles. There are only 3 foes that make any sense in this game’the guerrilla soldiers, scorpions, and of course, the Predator. But things get strange when you enter the caves and are force to confront projectile-shooting plants, single-cell organisms, jellyfish, and a number of other creatures that just don’t fit in with the theme of what Predator is all about. And while it’s only normal for the opposition to stand in your way, these creatures are a big frustration to deal with because you’ll often find yourself going up against 3 and 4 different types of enemies with their individual attack patterns at the same time. It often makes an otherwise short level drag out unnecessarily because you’re forced to carefully trudge through the onslaught, usually while having to blast away a chunk of rocks in your path or something to that effect. The poor availability of weapons at your disposal only exacerbates the problem. Making forward progress in an action game shouldn’t feel this daunting.

The second glaring problem is the controls. Major Schaefer tends to slide before coming to a complete stop from moving around. Jumping is even worse because he has that “floaty” feel while in the air. That’s a big no-no in a game like this because such imprecise movements will cause you to waste lives just trying to get across a few chasms that would otherwise be reasonably easy to cross. As a result of these faults, most of the game ends up being a chore to play through. Since the game relies so heavily on platforming mechanics, you can bet that you’ll be writhing in anger after seeing that game over screen for the hundredth time because he couldn’t stay still after landing on that devilishly narrow ledge.
To make matters worse, you’ll get knocked around when damage is sustained; which often happens when you need to jump across many thin platforms to get to the other side of wherever you are. Aggravations like this make it very unappealing to backtrack and grab a laser or machine gun weapon that’s been conveniently placed out of immediate reach. I always dreaded the sections where one of those weapons would be hanging somewhere between a rock and hard place to my left, but to my right were creatures placed in the perfect positions to make progressing through the level that much more difficult without that particular weapon I didn’t feel like risking my life to obtain. Either way, it’ll end up feeling like I’m fighting more with the controls than the actual enemies and obstacles onscreen.

The visual aspect of the game isn’t much prettier. First, let’s start with the sprite character that is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. The game starts out showing a little promise with the nicely drawn rendition of him prepared for action on the title screen, but that’s about as far as it goes. The actual in-game representation of him is just embarrassing. Get ready to spend most of your time running around in a pink outfit that makes him look like he should be in an aerobics video. That color isn’t very advantageous if you’re a commando trying to get the upper hand on a stealthy alien warrior trying to kill you.
I also have with issues with the choice of colors that were made for the platforms and backgrounds. The problem is that they blend in such a way that it makes it nearly impossible to tell what parts you can stand on or jump to and what parts are really just gaps or chasms. This is most troublesome in the cave areas because many of the color are just different hues of blue or other like colors. When you factor in the constant bombardment of enemy attacks, getting knocked off ledges and botched platform jumps are the order of the day.

Play or Stay? Like RoboCop and Total Recall, Predator is a prime example of what happens to the majority of movies that get licensed to lackluster game developers. You’re often stuck with a product that poorly represents the action found in theaters, and a video game character that sometimes doesn’t look anything like their real life counterpart. This game will be sure to provide you with 30 levels of botched platforming, confused color viewing, nonsensical mediocrity. It can best be described as the end result when you take the Predator movie and whack it with the ugly stick several times. It’s one ugly mother[expletive].

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.