Occasionally, someone asks me what the point is in reviewing old games. These things have been out for twenty years. Surely, everyone who cares has already formed their opinion. What they are forgetting is the most crucial fact of vintage media. Nostalgia lies. I remember my time playing Amagon with a great deal of fondness. I believe I actually stole (well, borrowed, and neglected to return) the cartridge from a friend so I could call it my own. Granted I was usually using the Game Genie to make playtime a bit easier, but I had a ball nonetheless. A decade later, Amagon looks a bit like the barfly you brought home last night, with your beer goggles playing the role of the Game Genie.
Amagon is a sidescroller that puts you in the shoes of the country’s “most decorated Marine”. You’re sent by the higher-ups to check out a mysterious island full of monsters in the South Pacific. And by “check out”, I mean, as the manual says, “become the first to conquer the island”. Imperialism at its finest. Even though it’s never expressly stated, the presence of a crashed plane in the title screen indicates that things didn’t go as planned. Now you’ve got to fight your way across the island to meet your rescue party, because apparently they don’t’ feel like pulling the boat around to the other side.
Amagon (which, to be clear, is your name) is armed only with his trusty machine gun which shoots huge Civil War era musket balls and has no automatic fire, making it rather substandard as machine guns go. Still, it’s a reasonably effective weapon, despite the fact that most of your enemies will come from above you and you can’t aim up. For the country’s most decorated Marine, Amagon can’t take a punch to save his life. One measly hit by any enemy will kill him and expend one of his three lives. Luckily, Amagon must have taken part in some Captain America style government experiment because when he collects a Mega-Key icon, he bulks up and becomes the much tougher Megagon.
As Megagon, you lose the gun but gain a mighty uppercut that packs eight times the power. You can also shoot a goofy laser beam from your chest that is almost exactly like the one Hyde has in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This attack costs you hit points, but can be worth the trade. Your third and final Megagon power is to, as the J Man puts it “high-step like a fucking Broadway cancan dancer when you walk.” Get hit too many times and your back to puny ol’ Amagon again.
The manual points out that there is no time limit. So unlike Mario, you can take as much time as you want to carefully pick off bad guys before continuing. Because of this, the developers purposely stop you from speeding through levels by siccing multiple enemies on you, sending random ones flying straight at your face, and timing others to fall just as you run under them. This is all well and good except guess what guys? Your game is boring and this isn’t a fun way to play a platformer.
Let’s remember Mario, shall we? If you’re like most gamers, you spent that whole game with your right thumb on B. Why walk when you can run? There were certain areas that required a slower approach, but the game actually rewarded you for building up speed by letting you run across gaps, hit several enemies in a row, etc. That’s fun. Amagon would rather slow you down to distract you from the fact that its levels are short and uninspired.
There are other limitations as well. Your gun has 300 shots. If you try to run through the level you’ll have to constantly spray the air to eliminate oncoming baddies, meaning you’ll be out of ammo by the middle of the first stage. You can still clumsily use your gun as a club and the game is admittedly good at realizing your running low and dropping a few more magazines at the right time. But this will hardly be an effective play style. Instead, you’ve got to make every shot count.
This is compounded by the fact that you’ll need to mow down anything that moves to increase your score because the amount of hit points Megagon gets is related to your score when you trigger the transformation. So if you get the Mega-Key early in a level, there’s no point in transforming because you’ll end up with no life and change back after one hit. To earn full health you’ll need 70,000 points which basically means you’ll be saving Megagon for the boss battles at the end of each level, forcing you to play most of the game as a one-hit character. Granted, other platformers, like Mario, had this same stipulation, but this is usually offset by reasonably frequent power-ups. Don’t go looking for any mushrooms here.
In fact, truly useful power-ups are few and far between. Points are fairly common. Ammo appears frequently enough, but only if you’re already playing conservatively. There are about two Mega-Keys per level which, if you’re shooting every enemy, won’t be too hard to find. But extra lives are a thing of myth. I burned through my lives time and time again before ever seeing one. When I finally did, I missed my chance to snag it because power-ups disappear far too quickly. With only three lives to begin with, this gets old fast.
Control is a chore. Your machine gun doesn’t auto-fire, though this is probably a good thing since you’d end up wasting even more bullets. Holding the jump button results in a longer and higher jump, as it should, but it also results in a double jump if you’re still holding it when you hit the ground. This is never useful, but can be damned annoying when you jump right off a moving platform. Trying to nail the timing will also result in short jumps that land you at the bottom of a pit.
Maybe moving carefully through each level wouldn’t be so boring if there was anything unique to experience. For an island populated by monsters, enemies are pretty uninspired, at least in the first few levels I was able to force myself to play. Old NES standbys such as birds, snakes, and spiders will form the majority of your nemeses. You’ll only hit stuff like the freaky two-faced floating lion head as a boss. The environments are pretty simple with a lot of repeating elements. There’s nothing to write home about sound-wise either.
Why isn’t this game as good as I remember it being? Well, partially because a lot of games were like this back then. Thankfully our standards have gone up. Amagon is hurt the most not by its faults but by its lack of strengths. If you want to play a platformer there are much better choices. If you want to pretend you’re Li’l Static, try the Game Genie code for infinite Megagon. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend.
Kinda fun to mess around with for a while. Upercutting innocent insects as big beefy Megagon has a certain appeal.