Shatterhand (1991)

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During the NES era Natsume produce a couple of tightly designed, extremely challenging 2d-action platformer games that brim with clever ideas and neat monster designs, among which is the often overlooked Shatterhand. The Japanese original is actually based on Super Rescue Solbrain, a series that never left Japan, so they went and changed some sprites, the intro and outro, took away a stage (a carnival, right screenshot) and added a completely different one (a submarine), but overall it’s pretty much the same game besides these changes.

Your basic attack is a punch, which is only moderately useful against the more weaponized enemies, but once you collect three different items of a certain kind, a helper bots appears. These make your life a lot easier (there are different bots and who appears depends on the sequence of the signs on the three items you collect), especially if you manage to reach a boss with one of these bots fully charged (they suck up hits aimed at you, but get damaged in the process).

When you start out, you can select one of five levels, after beating them you get to the boss level. The first five levels are challenging but not impossible, the boss level on the other hand is in a whole different class and I managed to finish it only with save states. While the controls in general are fine, they do feel a bit sluggish on occasion and especially in situations where you need 100% perfect movement control, they feel slightly not-up to par. Also the controls for climbing grates (which are all over the game) are decidedly subpar.

Overall, though, it’s a fine game for its kind and varying stages, both in terms of art as well as gameplay design, make for a lot of fun.

Btw. if you want to play the original (mostly for the extra stage), it was fan-translated to English, though I kinda prefer the US adaptation, mostly due to the main character sprite having more style.

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