Power Blade Review (NES)

Megaman + Metroid = Win

Quick, name some of the best NES games ever made. Sure, there’s Super Mario Bros. 3, Contra, Zelda, Tetris and loads more. Now think of the best NES games released post 1990. If Power Blade wasn’t among the games you listed, consider the rest of this review mandatory reading. Power Blade may not have been very original in it’s design, but it’s late 1991 arrival on the NES gave it the benefit of polish. It is without a doubt one of the best NES games and among my personal favorites. Why? Read on.

Story

After years of war that devastated the planet, Earth was beginning to recover. In 2191, the New Earth government established a single Master Computer that would be in charge of governing all major cities and robot-police forces.

One day, aliens attack the Master Computer, making the Master control program malfunction. When all hope of stopping the Master Computer fails, the New Earth government sends in the mysterious man known as Nova, wielder of a unique energy boomerang known as the Power Blade with the ability to take down the Master Computer’s forces.

In order to access the Master Computer’s Control Center, Nova first has to obtain tape units from the six sectors surrounding the Master Computer. Each sector is heavily guarded by robots controlled by the aliens, and Nova has to locate and contact an agent first to receive an ID card used to access the security room located at the same sector. After defeating the security room guards, Nova can obtain the sector’s tape unit and use it to disarm the sector. After the six sectors have been disarmed, Nova must fight his way through the Control Center, destroy the Master Computer and restore order to society.

Graphics

To say Power Blade is an okay looking game would be too modest. Power Blade is among the top tier best looking games on the system. Like other late NES games, the visuals are detailed, colorful and varied. Think of games like Sunsoft’s Batman or Natsume’s Shadow of the Ninja to get an idea of what to expect. Backgrounds often feature animation and the sprites themselves are very well animated and spring to life in ways few other NES sprites do. Nothing feels half-done in Power Blade.

Audio

In my opinion, the background music in  Power Blade is among the very best on the system, rivaling any of the Megaman soundtracks or any Koji Kondo arrangement you can think of.Composed by the talented Kinuyo Yamashita, composer of the classic Konami masterpiece Castlevania Power Blade brings many catchy, memorable, and remix worthy tunes to an already great looking game.  In particular I’m quite fond of sector 3, 5 and the final area themes.

Here’s Area 3’s theme for your listening pleasure.

Gameplay

Power Blade borrows a lot of ideas from Capcom’s Megaman franchise. When you start up the game, you are greeted with a level select screen that allows you to tackle any area in any order you want. Most of the areas are inhabited by robotic animals very much in the Megaman style, and there’s even vanishing tiles in some area that require careful timed jumps! One key difference is bosses do not bestow new weapons nor do they have any weaknesses or resistances, so the order one takes through the Power Blade’s stages is less critical than the average Megaman title.

As you defeat enemies, they will occasionally drop boomerang power ups which allow Nova to throw multiple boomerangs at once, and each power up fills up the power meter.  When the meter is full, your boomerangs will travel across the screen with full force, but when the meter is depleted your boomerangs will only travel a short distance. Nova can throw up to three boomerangs at once in any direction when fully powered up.

Each of the six stages are vast labyrinths reminiscent of the Zebes’ caverns of Metroid. When you enter each new area, you’re primary goal is to scout out the informant hidden somewhere in the level. Each informant possesses a keycard necessary to gain access to the area’s boss chamber. This mechanic means that players need to fully explore each area rather than simply rushing to face the boss as soon as they can, again reminiscent of Metroid.

There’s also a password system should you want to play through the game in multiple sittings, but given how addictive the game is chances are  you’ll want to beat the whole game in 0ne go.

Control

Power Blade has perfect controls. Nova runs at a decent clip and can jump fairly high, and best of all, can attack in any direction.

B: Throw Boomerang. To throw in a specific direction, hold the d-pad in that direction and then press B.

A: Jump

Select: Use Grenade (screenwide explosion)

Start: Pause

Frustration

Although it borrows heavily from NES action platformers like Megaman, Power Blade isn’t quite as polished in a few respects. Jumping off of ladders any distance will instantly kill Nova. Consumable items only remain on screen for about 5 seconds before vanishing. Nova has a single movement speed which is somewhere between a run and a walk and it can be sometimes difficult to line up precise platforming. Still, Power Blade is much easier than its Famicom counterpart – so much so that if you play Power Blazer first, Power Blade will seem like a cakewalk and Nova will seem to be actually overpowered.

Availability & Price

Power Blade was released well into the NES’s golden years and isn’t nearly as common as many other NES games. I’ve personally never once seen it for sale in any gaming store I’ve been in, so your best bet is with ebay or other online sources. Expect to pay between $10-15 for a cart-only copy.

History

Power Blade started off life under the title Power Blazer in Japan. Power Blazer, created by Taito, is a comical platformer starring a blue suited little man who throws a boomerang to attack enemies. It is rife with some of the most difficult platforming to be found in any Famicom title, and also suffers from fairly poor control and technical issues such as slow movement and a very short jump height. All in all, Power Blazer was a typical, completely unremarkable release that stood out like a sore thumb compared to the usual extremely high quality Natsume releases in the late Famicom era.

When the game was to be released for the NES, many localization changes were made to vastly improve the game in ways almost unheard of at the time or even now. First, the blue clad little man was replaced with an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike named Nova. Nova would behave much like the little blue man from Power Blazer, but the differences went far beyond sprite swaps. Nova could run faster, jump higher, take more damage, throw his boomerang in any direction and even throw multiple boomerangs at once while the little blue man from Power Blazer was limited to just one boomerang at any given time. In addition to all the other improvements, the idea of the Power Blade suit was added, which would allow Nova to throw energy waves and act as armor, protecting him from damage three times.

All the tweaks to the main character would have already made Power Blade vastly superior to Power Blazer,  but the localization team wasn’t done yet. Power Blazer received a total overhaul in level design that expanded on the slightly Metroid feel of Power Blazer’s stages. While maintaining the same overall theme (a bio-mechanical jungle, a shuttle launchpad, a furnace, etc) all of Power Blazer’s levels were redesigned to incorporate multiple paths with much better and much less repetitive platforming. To encourage players to explore the entire level, the idea of the informent with the keycards was introduced, and a timer was added to give player’s a gentle reminder that they should not linger in one area for too long.

Given all of the tweaks and changes made to the original, Power Blade could nearly be considered a completely new game. I can’t honestly think of another game where localization changes so vastly improved its overseas counterpart. Such changes are almost always detrimental. Power Blade stands alone in yet another regard.

Overall

Good

  • A ton of fun to play
  • Great, late NES era graphics that pushed the system
  • Great music
  • Decent challenge
  • Numerous improvements compared to its Famicom counterpart

Bad

  • Nova can’t jump nearly as high or as far as many other NES heroes, so there’s a bit of a learning curve involved
  • It’s a pretty uncommon game
  • The game is so spectacular it seems it’s over far too quickly
  • Might seem too easy for some experienced gamers

Conclusion

While the various tweaks made to Power Blade didn’t result in a game forumla that was groundbreaking in any way, the mere fact alone that such changes were made to improve Power Blazer so dramatically for its western release make it very unique not only among games in the NES era, but even today.

Power Blade, even given its silly and underdeveloped localized plot, is one of the best localizations in gaming history. The game offers solid, functional an fun gameplay, varied and detailed late NES-era graphics and among the very best music on the system. It’s a bit uncommon, but tracking down a copy is well worth it for NES collectors everywhere. This is a true NES hidden gem.

Data
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: March 1991
Developer: Natsume
Publisher: Taito
Also from the developer: Shadow of the Ninja, Pocky and Rocky
Also try: Megaman 2
Game Length: ~1-2 hours
ESRB: N/A, would be E
Buy/Skip: Buy it for sure.

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4 Responses to “Power Blade Review (NES)”

  1. Nice to hear about positive changes from JP->US.

    Unlike Mad City->Bayou Billy I mean, God! When you can barely pass the first stage! And don’t get me started with Double Dragon 3!

  2. geozeldadude Says:

    nice review. like the summary box at the end.

  3. Awesome write-up. I didn’t even know Power Blazer existed, and it looks like we got the better end of the deal with Power Blade. I agree that the music in this game is awesome. The soundtrack holds its own with any Mega Man game. I wish more people had heard of Power Blade, and I wonder how good an SNES version of the game could have been.

    I recently finished a post of my own on this game if you want to check it out: http://www.coronajumper.com/2011/12/power-blade-christmas.html

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