Top Gun: The Second Mission
by Polly

I briefly touched upon the original Top Gun game back a few years ago during NES Week Part C in my Konami Capsule Reviews write-up (which is in severe need of updating) and even then, by the time it was written anything and everything had already been said about it. To save you the trouble of having to read anything else I've ever written, like most bad games, I called it a "turd."

Being so scarred and ultimately disappointed in Konami for their efforts in the first game, I really don't understand why I ever decided to give Top Gun: The Second Mission any kind of fair chance. It landed in my possession after a cousin of mine had to give up his game collection and they all went to me, and I avoided playing it for a good while. It was a friend of mine who came over once and sparked my interest in the game. He sat there and played around with the game for a good hour straight and then we farted around with the one-on-one dogfighting mode for a good while. After he left, I found myself interested enough to give the game a go. Throw your friends into the fire first, I always say.

I'll go ahead and start off by saying that Top Gun: The Second Mission is a vast improvement over the original game in almost every way. Konami really went back to the drawing board and did their homework in trying to figure out the failings of their first whack at the fighter jet flyan and shootan genre. This essentially meant taking the source code, flushing it down the toilet, and starting from scratch. Well, maybe that's not entirely true.

Initial game set-up is fairly similar to the original. When starting a new mission you select your missile load-out, consisting of three different types of missiles balanced between quantity and destructive power. Then, it's off into the skies to blast away at enemy jets, ground artillery, and missile spewing subs until one of the two of you are permanently grounded. It's fairly cut and dry and in all actuality doesn't sound all that different from the original, but a large number of changes have been made to the actual gameplay that make it feel and play a whole hell of a lot better.

To start with, there's an actual sense of speed and danger. The kinda thing you want in a jet flying game, methinks. This game is much, much faster paced and intense than the original, making it feel more like an arcade shooter than the boring flight sim the original felt like. Probably the best choice they could have made. You're given control of your jet's speed the entire time, which in turn lets you try to out-run enemy missiles, pull off vomit-inducing loops, and of course, 'dem barrell rolls! Enemy encounters are fast and furious and getting used to taking down each new group of enemies and dealing with their oftentimes massive onslaught of hot lead and missiles is going to take quite a bit of skill as well as getting used to all that new freedom of movement you have.

The controls aren't necessarily wonky, but they do take some getting used to. Standard flight controls aren't too hard to get used to, and the radar read-out, though significantly smaller than the original's, is very easy to keep track of and work from. You'll be pulling off loops, barrell rolls, and weaving in and out of oncoming enemy opposition with the best of 'em in almost no time. This game just feels immediately much better than the original, and when you get the hang of moving around, it really feels quite slick. JUST LIKE THE MOVIES! (PS: The movie fucking sucked.)

What does take some getting used to however, is the aiming and missile targeting mechanics. With both your vulcan machinegun and missiles mapped to the B button, things can get just a little hairy. You hold the B button to fire and tap the B button twice to fire off a missile. This part is fairly easy to adjust to. The part I've watched many friends fail to understand, however, is how banking your craft to the left or right arcs the spray of your vulcan fire away from the on-scren targeting reticle in the proper direction. To put it simply, if you're pulling left, your shots will arc to the right side of the screen and vice-versa. The same goes for pulling up and down. Where many players fail to adapt to the game as early as 30 or so seconds into the first mission is trying to bat down a swarm of enemy missiles, pulling in every direction to try and line up the reticle, all the while missing the incoming flaming death entirely and eating it hard. Since you constantly want to have your jet moving, you have to get into the habit of leading all your shots and making them arc in the right direction most of the time. Rather than just trying to shoot straight ahead, lay down a spray of vulcan fire to the left or right and the bullet trail will take care of the threat. It's a little unconventional from a gameplay standpoint, but it always felt more strategic and true to the real thing to me. I, however, am only a videogame jet pilot, so take that as you will.

But hey, at least landing is easy! I mean, it's braindead easy, and it probably should be since crashing means loss of lives, of which you only get three, with one extend at 20,000 points and no continues. Hell, it's almost a one-handed affair. You'll be able to easily masturbate at just how easy it is! All you have to do is line up your reticle with the deck of the aircraft carrier. The console will probably scream at you to "SPEED DOWN" a lot, but your speed will naturally decrease on the way down to hit the right speed every time. You barely have to do a thing. Maybe with it being so easy now, they could have nixed the landing sequence entirely, but with as tense as some of the missions can be, it actually feels like a neat little cool-down to calm the nerves a bit.

Visually, Top Gun: The Second Mission is only a tiny step up from the original. The original had almost no dynamic visuals whatsoever, however this time we've got that old familiar two-tone stripey landscape deal going on. With as fast as you can go in this game and how often you'll be flipping and turning around though, it may actually make some people a bit nauseous. It makes me a bit queasy after prolonged exposure, anyway. There are no other backgrounds, so the sky is all you'll see, other than random whisps of clouds. Kinda boring. Enemy aircraft and ground/water-based vehicles are presented adequately, but they'll only be on screen for a second or less, so odds are that they'll just appear as grey, green, and black blobs that you make go boom. When you're inundated with large amounts of enemy missiles and vulcan fire, that dreaded NES flicker can set in, and unfortunately it can lead to deaths because sometimes missiles may be completely blinked out and seem to randomly appear at the worst possible moment. This isn't an incredibly common occurrence, but it can and will happen.

What is awesome in this game's presentation? The fucking music. It's absolutely fantastic. It's a Konami game, so fucking duh, right? I mean hell, it's amazing that this game even has any, given that the original didn't. The composers brought all their awesome NES tracking chops to the table for this one, crafting tunes that sound about as close to wailing and riffing electric guitars that I think I may have ever heard on the NES. A little cheesy, but given that it's an NES churning the tunes out, it sounds fantastic. Awesome riffs, great solos, sweeping arpeggios, the soundtrack has it all and I'd love to hear some of these tunes replicated on guitar (I'm not confident in my own chops to even try.) Most of the music is strangely missing percussion, but it's hardly missed here with the melodies being so good and technical and complimenting the action so well. Most of the sound effects are yanked directly from the first game, which is kinda the norm for all Konami games. They're there, they sound good enough, enough said.

Of course, it couldn't be all perfect, and this review had to probably come crashing down at some point, and this is about it. But fear not, it's not a total nosedive! It's actually more of a really bumpy landing with some scrapes and bumps all over the belly of the plane and maybe the front landing gear almost flying off the front of the carrier.

The chief problem with the game, just like a lot of games on the NES, is judging distance of enemy missiles, waves of bullets, and environmental obstacles. The scaling effects that this game tries to employ never quite look right, and trying to gauge just how far you are from hitting something, or where your "hit box" even is, will prove incredibly troublesome. It is something you'll just instinctively "feel" after a while, but it's incredibly tough to get to that point and not have already thrown the controller out the window in frustration.

This can become a slight problem in dealing with barrages of missiles, because when you're hit, the missile doesn't even appear to be close to you. In the original Top Gun and the pseudo-follow-up to this game, Laser Invasion, there's a pretty nice "grace period" you're given to shoot down and avoid missiles. Here, you have to just get used to the fact that if it's even "somewhat medium-sized" on your screen, you're fuckin' toast. Again, it's something you can get yourself used to, and shooting down missiles isn't really all that hard once you've adjusted, but losing a life this way just looks and feels all wrong.

The unforgivable blunder in being unable to judge distance comes during the second mission, where you must wave in and out of a forested area, avoiding contact with trees. I'll forgive the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever that I'm in a fighter jet trying to traverse a god damn forest at such a low-altitude that I can eat a tree in the fucking face because it's a videogame, but I won't forgive just how damn sloppy this section of the game is. Not only is judging the distance and where a tree actually has to be to make contact fucking frustrating as all hell, NES flicker becomes a HUGE problem here, with entire trees sometimes just disappearing and making you think you've passed them safely, only to appear right in your face mere moments later. It can and will prove impossible to almost anybody trying it for the first time and only with a mighty wellspring of patience (or stupidity) will anyone get good enough to do it consistently. And by consistently, I mean I still lose one or two lives doing it every single time, leaving me with usually one life to finish the game with. The best advice I can provide for this portion of the game is to try and aim for the biggest gaps you see and stay off the accellerator. They could have easily taken a bit of the bullshit factor off this portion of the game if the trees showed up on your radar or something. Stupid NES scaling!

I will however offer this super sexy socks Polly ProTip for the final mission's barrage of lightning and lasers! (Yes, lightning and lasers. In a jet fighting game. I know!)

A lot of people I know gave up on the game at this point, but all one needs to do is pull hard left or hard right (it doesn't even matter) while going full-speed and you'll never get hit. Just don't barrell roll fail out of that section like I did. And before you get snarky, that fancy Game Over screen means I'd already completed the game once, so eff you!

The other sorta big problem that really goes against the game's worth is that it really just doesn't offer all that much. The main campaign is a mere three missions long and there's very limited fun to be had with either of the one-on-one dogfighting modes. While it's true that the campaign missions themselves are actually quite long, the missions aren't all that varied due to a lacking enemy variety and predictable formula. The game starts off as a breath of fresh air with all the swish new gameplay features, but it boils down to the same nauseating backgrounds and two or three enemy types doing the same predictable things once you've cracked all the nasty tricks it has to offer.

Top Gun: The Second Mission isn't a fantastic game, but it's not really terrible. It's just a little better than your average flight sim and leaps and bounds better than the first game. I can appreciate the arcade game style they were aiming for here, as it provides a fast-paced and action-packed experience, but there's so little content that there's no way it warranted full price at the time of its release. If you can look past a bit of bullshit and come to grips with how the game controls, you'll find a fun little game here that's over before you blink, but as I've already stated, I've yet to find someone who'll stick around past the initial frustration to try and have a bit of fun with it. This really is a case of it just being one of those kinda bad games that for some reason I actually kinda like, but know it's kinda crappy.

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