I first heard about Silver Surfer for the NES when I saw one of the Angry Video Game Nerd’s videos about it. Specifically, he featured this game in Episode 27 of his series. I almost skipped this game because I thought it was too broken to be playable. But in researching for a different game, I started looking at cheats that could make broken games more playable.
Well, I saw that this game had interesting built-in cheats that had the potential to make this game playable. After originally skipping it, I changed my mind and finally decided to give this game a try. So let’s talk about it!
Silver Surfer is a shoot ’em up game developed by Software Creations and published by Arcadia Systems for the NES. The game starts with Galactus summoning the Silver Surfer because the Magik Domain is posing a threat to the universe. In order to stop them, the Surfer needs to collect the pieces of a powerful “cosmic device”, which are scattered amongst different planets. As the Surfer, you will venture to these planets, take each piece by force and battle each planet’s defenders.
This game switches between a side scrolling shoot ’em up, similar to Konami’s Gradius, and a vertical shooter, like Konami’s Twin Bee games. Personally, I liked the idea of mixing both shooter sub-genres because it helped keep the game from feeling stale. In both styles, you are in control of the Surfer as he flies through planets on top his silver surfboard.
At the start of the game, you can choose which planet you want to take on first, which are identified by that planet’s leader or champion. These planets are divided into three sections, with the final section featuring a battle with that world’s champion. The champions are: Reptyl, Firelord, Possessor, a Skrull Emperor, and Mephisto. Each planet is distinct from the others visually and in terms of the inhabitants.
Reptyl’s world has a lot of water and plants, filled with reptilian and amphibious creatures. Firelord’s domain is all about flames and molten lava. Possessor’s area looks like a museam of intergalactic artifacts. The Emperor’s area looks like the insides of a high tech spacecraft or base of operations. And Mephisto’s world looks like the comic book version of hell.
Moves and Abilities
The Silver Surfer has only three moves in this game. The first is to shoot energy balls as projectiles. He shoots this forward, and he shoots one ball per button press. If you don’t have a turbo controller, don’t even bother playing this game. You’ll either wear out your controller or your right thumb. You’ll need turbo so you can simply hold down the attack button and have it auto-fire.
Even with turbo-powered auto-fire, your default energy balls are weak. It will take around three to four balls to kill the first generic enemy that you’ll encounter. Surfer’s attacks can be upgraded by collecting F power-ups. His attacks range from level 1 to level 5, with each level increasing the rate of fire or damage.
His second ability is to trigger a full screen bomb that kills all enemies on screen. This move even destroys some projectiles and other stage hazards like dripping lava. Using this consumes one count from your stock, and you usually start with one by default. Collecting “B” power ups will add one to your stock.
The Silver Spheres
The Silver Surfer’s third move involves these silver spheres. Some enemies will drop them when killed. When you get one, it will follow you and shoot energy balls with you. They work a little differently, depending on whether you’re scrolling horizontally or vertically.
In the horizontal scrolling sections, you can only have one silver sphere at a time. Your sphere will hover just below the Surfer’s surfboard. You can aim the sphere in three different directions: forward as a second stream of firepower, downwards to deal with threats below you, and backwards to deal with enemies behind you. The Surfer will continue to aim forward.
In vertical scrolling sections, the Surfer can actually have two silver spheres. The first sphere will appear on the side where you obtained it, either the left or right side. When you get your second sphere, it’ll show up on the side that doesn’t have a sphere.
You can also control where the spheres are aiming in these sections. They can shoot diagonally forward, giving you a spread-like attack. You can aim them directly sideways, or backwards.
In the vertical scrolling stages, the spheres have a wide coverage – if you have two of them. If you only have one, the side without a sphere will be quite vulnerable. However, horizontal scrolling stages will always have you vulnerable from above. So these spheres are quite helpful, but not game-breaking.
One Major Flaw
Unfortunately, Silver Surfer has one major problem that creates other problems. The Surfer can only take one hit from anything, then he falls off his surfboard (“dies”). He doesn’t have a health meter or any sort of defenses that allow him to survive from attacks. This flaw is the sole reason why this game is considered to be among the hardest NES games made.
Let’s get into the first problem stemming from that one flaw. When you die, you don’t respawn right away. The game goes to a weeping Surfer screen. Then, you see the stage intro again. After that is when you finally respawn to your last checkpoint. It may not sound bad but remember, you die easily in this game. You will go through this every time you die. I promise you, it’ll get annoying, fast.
Another problem has to do with the size of his sprite in the vertical scrolling stages. It’s simply too big, and his surfboard is too long. It is so hard to avoid taking damage or hitting stage obstacles.
I don’t know if the developers have sadistic tendencies but they put a lot of diagonal corridors in these sections. The Surfer’s sprite doesn’t rotate when you move diagonally, so it’s easy to clip into these walls with your surfboard and die.
Remember when I said that Surfer’s starting attacks are weak? When you die, you lose all your spheres and extra bombs, and your power level goes back to one. It would have been okay if this was like Gradius, which is quite generous with power ups. But it’s not. I guarantee you, you’ll die more often than you can get your power to level three.
I always try to recommend how to address any criticisms that I have about video games, so I’ll do the same here. For Silver Surfer, the simplest solution is to implement a health meter. If the developers feel that this will make the game too easy, they can balance it by not including health refills and even limiting the health meter to be able to absorb a limited amount of damage.
If a health meter is too complicated, maybe a simple Shield power up will work. When you get it, you’ll have it, and it will negate one hit. Once you get hit, it disappears and you’ll need to get another one to get that one hit protection. But you know what? Both these solutions will require creating assets that aren’t already available. So let me propose two more solutions that shouldn’t require a lot of tinkering.
The first one is using the Surfer’s power level as a life meter. When you take a hit, instead of getting killed immediately, your power level will decrease by one. If you’re already at the lowest level, then that’s when you die. This method will reward good players who are able to build up their power levels.
If this is too generous, then my final proposal is to use the sphere as a shield. If you have a sphere and you get hit, you’ll lose the sphere instead of dying. This method is the easiest to program as it doesn’t need new assets.
Saved by Cheats
But even if you don’t have any option to play a modified version of Silver Surfer, don’t fret. It’s got built-in cheats, in the form of special passwords, that you can use to make the game playable. Now that I’ve tried these passwords, I look at them like an advanced difficulty slider. These passwords are from GameFAQs.com, with credits remaining in the image.
These passwords can be used with each other, but obviously some of them won’t work at the same time (unlimited continues will supersede the extra continue password). Using them in various combinations can change how difficult the game will be to play.
You can consider playing the game without any of these passwords as its “Very Hard” setting. Using the “2 Extra Continues” password is it’s “Hard” setting, while using the Invincibility password is it’s “Novice” setting. I personally recommend trying the Full Weapons password with 2 Extra Continues, and if that’s still too challenging, you can try it with the Unlimited Continues password.
Visuals and Audio
I was quite satisfied with Silver Surfer’s production values. In terms of graphics, the game looked really good. Sprites are quite detailed, especially enemy sprites. You can quickly identify what each enemy is supposed to be, because of the well-drawn sprites.
My minor nitpick has to do with the Surfer himself. On the horizontal stages, he does this tossing motion that will make you think he’s actually throwing these balls. I would have preferred it if he just held an open palm forward. And I wish they used thin beams instead of balls for his projectiles.
Backgrounds are quite detailed too, which helps differentiate each of the worlds that you can explore. My biggest gripe here is that everything looks vivid, so its hard to tell which parts of the stages can harm you. Its also easy to lose enemy bullets in the background. I think they should have muted the colors for background elements.
The best part of this game is its music. From the title screen, the stage music, and even the jingles in between, this game is a treat to listen to. I don’t mind if they only alternated between two stage tracks, because the pair that they used are so good. Both these tracks are long and have a lot of inter-track variations so they don’t sound repetitive. And both perfectly fit the space travelling vibe of the game.
Presentation and Comic Book Accuracy
in terms of presentation, this game is alright. You get a few cutscenes at the start of the game, before the final stage, and at the end. They use static images that are nicely illustrated.
At the end of each stage, you see a graphic of the device that Galactus wants you to assemble, with a new piece attached each time. I guess the Surfer is quite an emotional being, because he weeps profusely every time he wipes out. But he also celebrates each victory with such a powerful pose that I’ll show in the next section.
I’ll admit though, I’m impressed at how deep the developers had to dig to get the characters for this game. I mean, everyone who saw WandaVision knows who Mephisto is. And Firelord is a popular former herald of Galactus. But who the heck are Reptyl, Possessor, and Emperor? I checked, they actually appeared in Silver Surfer comic books and storylines. Good job, Software Creations.
After playing the game twice (with cheats), I think that Silver Surfer would have been a decent game if it hadn’t been for that one poor design choice that I mentioned. It’s graphics is above average for NES standards. It’s got really good stage music that would have easily stood out if more people gave this a chance.
But this game is so difficult, it’s become something that’s hard to enjoy. And it’s a shame because how many other superheroes would be able to fit as easily as the Surfer does in a shoot ’em up game? The Silver Surfer fits this genre like a glove.
Don’t listen to naysayers, give this game a try. I was able to beat it with the Full Weapons and Unlimited Continues cheats, and I felt that the challenge was just right. I highly recommend this to fans of classic “shmups” who want to play something really challenging. Marvel fans who like seeing really deep cuts in the Marvel Comics lore may also want to give this a peek. And who doesn’t want to add one of the hardest NES games in his/her collection?