by Polly

Oh my god, that box art... Could it look any gayer? I mean, fuck, those sunglasses... I could swear those neon fruity ass things went out in the 80's and this game was released in 1991 soooo... What's the deal? He's a real manly man, is that it? Too manly for a set of decent looking, non-cock gobbling shades, I guess. HIS PUNCH IS SO MANLY HE WAS ONLY ABLE TO BREAK OFF AN ITTY-BITTY PIECE OF THE H IN THE LOGO! Oye... Man, old game box arts were the shit!

Jaleco is one of those weird companies I remember back in the NES days that had an odd game here or there that'd be really enjoyable. To my knowledge, they never quite reached the level of companies like Capcom and Konami, but they had a lot of weird "diamond in the rough" games I remember liking quite a bit. The Astyanax, though tough-as-piss (and when I think about it now, probably was more cheaty than I'd admit back then) held my interest for almost a solid month until I was finally able to beat it, my dad played the Bases Loaded series all the way through the SNES incarnations, and I could honestly play the shit out of City Connection, arcade or NES version, for hours on end and never be bored.

I remember an issue of Nintendo Power plugging the shit out of Shatterhand, which was released close to the end of the NES's life-cycle. I never got to play it back then because our local videogame rental stores had begun moving onto the 16-bit platforms and I never could find it in stores to buy. Only when I began amassing my NES game collection empire was I able to secure a copy sometime around 2001. It seems like this may be a case of a game not aging well or my tastes changing a bit, because I can feel that back in the day I'd have loved this game, but playing it ten years after it'd been released left me with a somewhat different take.

Shatterhand is an action-platformer (like 80% of NES games are) that puts you in control of police officer Steve Hermann. Dude lives in a future where cyborgs and shit are going wild and ends up losing both of his hands after an encounter with one. A super military division outfits him with SUPER CYBORG HAAAAANDS....yeah, ya know what? I don't really care, the story's fucking stupid.

As I was saying, the game's an action-platformer and if the title, story, and stupid box art are any indication, you're gonna be punching things a lot. Enemies, walls, fucking gunshots. Yeah, his story may be dumb, but Shatterhand is a bad ass that punches bullets. I don't care how DERP your story is, if you can punch through bullets, you're the man. You have two types of punches at your disposal: A jab and a devastating hook. To perform jabs you just tap B slowly, to perform the hook mash the shit out of B and it'll start coming out with every punch. You have to be careful with this, however, because since the hook is slower coming out, it can really throw off your timing trying to punch bullets or really fast enemies that can zoom right into you. Another problem with punching is obviously the range. To damage any enemy in the game you have to be close to it and at times it can be hard to gauge exactly how close you should be. The range and enemy hitboxes feel very inconsistent at times and many a life may be lost because of it. Some enemies don't seem to even need to come into contact with your fist to be destroyed, whereas others feel like you have to get way too close for comfort and take a huge risk at sustaining damage.

You can also collect little Alpha and Beta symbols from containers, and each one is collected in a box at the top of the screen until you've formed a string of three, which grants you a little Satellite Buddy that helps in your fight against the anti-punching brigade. Using the symbols you can create up to eight very different companions, each offering a unique function or ability. These typically offer you some form of projectile attack, such as lobbing grenades, piercing lasers, bouncing energy balls, and an electro-yo-yo. They are destructable though, so you have to be careful with them around enemies. In addition to their normal functions, each Satellite Buddy can be used to help you hover upwards or can be thrown at enemies for really good damage, but the charge time to pull off these maneuvers almost isn't worth it most of the time since the game can get very hectic. Collecting the same string of symbols twice in a row and providing your Satellite Buddy survived that long grants you a SUPER POWER SUIT which is so ridiculously overpowered it can squash most bosses in under ten seconds. Most of the time though, as I've mentioned, the game is so hectic that it's not exactly easy to pull this off on a regular basis. The Satellite Buddies are a cool idea. Though some of their usefulness can be debated, it helps the game stand out just a bit more and they no doubt go a long way toward helping ease up some of the more challenging bits of the game.

Adding further assistance to Shatterhand's cause is a handy little shop system. As you destroy various power-up containers and enemies they drop cash for you to collect. This cash can be spent at various little shop plates found around the game that can grant Shatterhand doubled strength for his punches, refills of the life meter, and extra lives. Each stage of the game is packed with money to collect and you'll almost always have the cash you need to reap the rewards of any shop you come across.

Shatterhand reminds me a lot of Konami's NES rendition of Bucky O'Hare. Every stage of the game requires a heightened level of awareness, reflexes, and loads of pattern memorization to get things right. There's almost an exact way to finish each stage every time and the game will continue to punish you until you get it right. The last stage of the game seriously turns into an excercise in frustration, requiring such a steep amount of perfection to see the final boss that it's honestly almost not worth playing. Your only reprieve here is that the middle five stages of the game can be played in any order, while the first and last are played automatically. It's not really even as if each stage presents a unique challenge, though. Just a different background to look at and a new boss. You're fighting the same enemies over and over and over with maybe a new one being tossed in every now and again, but for the most part each stage just finds new and more annoying ways to set up the enemies you've already dealt with before. Bosses fall into that typical NES variety where they appear annoyingly difficult or almost impossible when you first face them, but you'll soon find that it's really just a matter of finding the right place to stand and just keep punching or luring the AI into a pattern of movement where you can't be hit anymore but still land blows. The game offers a good challenge, bordering on maddening at times, but it doesn't offer enough enemy variety to really stay exciting. The somewhat boring nature of the enemies and challenges they provide clashes a bit with the things the game does do right with the powering-up system and Satellite Buddies.

The inconsistencies continue when you delve into the presentation of the game. Graphically, Shatterhand almost feels like it was being worked on by two entirely different teams and the good team up and quit a few days into the project. Some areas of the game are host to some of the best graphics the NES ever saw, featuring nicely colored skylines, animated background details, and some parallax scrolling to boot. Most of the time, however, you end up looking at the same boring various metal colored floors and backgrounds you've seen in every other futuristic NES game ever. Sounding a bit like the first Power Blade huh? The sprite work is also quite average. Enemy soldiers, giant lumbering robots, and mounted gun turrets, all consisting of two colors and limited animation just all kinda fall flat. Shatterhand himself animates well, but then you have to remember all he does is run, jump, and punch, so it's really not all that exciting at all.

It's the same with the music. Imagine the most generic and forgettable 8-bit chiptunes you've ever heard and you've got Shatterhand's score. With most NES music, there's always something there that'll grab you, be it a little jingle or a memorable stage tune. Shatterhand's audio feels like it's just there for the sake of not having silence and it neither fits nor excites enough to really matter, but isn't exceptionally bad either.

That's pretty much Shatterhand's entire story. It's just a bit better than average. It's fun, but in no way is it long-lasting or terribly exciting when all is said and done.

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