Company: Data East
This is my 50th review.
I want to say that for two reasons: First of all, it gives me a chance to feed my ego a little bit. Second, it provides some background as to why I chose this review. See, this game was deeply rooted into my NES-playing childhood. Although I never actually owned this game, a friend of mine did1, and it was almost constantly played while it was available. We both managed to do quite well in the game, although neither of us was able to beat it.
It's been about 10 years since then. About a year into my NES renaissance, I came across this game at the local swap meet and immediately bought it. After all, it was a pivotal game back when I was a kid, and certainly I'd have fun not only playing this game, but reminiscing the years past in the process.
What I didn't count on is this: by then, I had already gotten about 50-60 games. And among the titles I had were most of the Mega Man series, both Zeldas, Final Fantasy, and Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES. Karnov was a terrific game when the choices were sparse, but now it had been put in competition with other, much more solid games, and as a result its luster was tarnished. Its faults became much more prominent, and although I had an emotional tie to the game, I wasn't as enthralled with it anymore.
The plot, like most platformers, is pedestrian and quite forgettable. We know there's a bad guy, and we know there's a good guy: that's all we really need. Karnov himself seems an unlikely hero: He's a circus performer (although I can't remember what exactly he did, or if the manual even mentioned it), and he looks kinda dumpy. The villain in this game is a dragon named Ryu2, and although I've never seen it, I can imagine it's your standard reptilian fare. Granted, this game came out in 1987, before any major breakthroughs in plot development, but I can't help but feel a little unsatisfied by what we're given here.
The presentation also seems sub-par, even for 1987's standards. The animation is fairly decent, and they managed to give the enemies a good amount of detail. The scenery seems to go a bit overboard on the earth tones. There's just too much red and brown throughout much of the terrain for anything to stand out. The backgrounds are also kinda cheesy: with the exception of a nice (albeit dead) forest in the third level, most everything is made out of stamps. Buildings run into each other without any semblance of edges. As for the music, it gets extremely annoying after a while. The theme lasts about 20 seconds, and repeats over and over again on every single level. Again, even Super Mario Bros. - a game two years Karnov's senior - managed to have some variety in its music, and the major theme was about a minute long anyway. The fact that the noise made when shooting fireballs (which you'll hear a lot) rules over the percussion track quite irritatingly.
And if things couldn't get any worse, the play control needs some serious work. First of all, using items that are picked up along the way is extremely cumbersome. Pressing left or right not only moves your character, but also scrolls between the items. It can be tough to have to press right four or five times to get to the item you want while everything else is going on. Plus, certain items can't be used in certain places, but the game never tells you; it just skips over that item and goes to the next. It's frustrating when you want to use the pair of wings you have but the game won't let you. Also, should you fall off a platform, you can't control your descent: you just drop straight down. This is especially annoying in the third level when you need to make a long jump. Take one step too far on the tree you have to stand on, and you're history.
The sluggish controls are probably why the game is so hard. It can be difficult to complete a game when implementing the special weapons you find is either clumsy or not allowed. And although there's only 9 levels to the game and they're all fairly short, it seems as if the programmers overcompensated for the game's shortness by loading up the levels with a lot of enemies. There doesn't seem to be any structure to when enemies appear and when they don't, either: sometimes one of a certain foe will spawn, other times five will. However, praise must be given for managing to come up with original enemies that don't all appear to do the same thing, and having infinitie continues makes things a little more bearable.
Still, there's a nagging feeling I get when I play this game, and it's that Karnov tries a little too hard to play like Super Mario Bros. There are far too many elements borrowed from that game to give Karnov a really original feel: from collecting K's to amass lives, to jumping in a certain spot to reveal a power-up, to the two-hit method of measuring energy. If there were a few more original elements to the game, Karnov may have been more attractive after its permanent residence in my collection.
Although it has a significance to me that transcends a percentage rating, Karnov is not such a great game on paper. If your childhood hinged on this game as well, then you'd be well served to get this one too. If it didn't, then it's not going to make a huge impact now, either.
1. Well, a friend of my friend, anyway.
2. A Russian circus performer battling a Japanese dragon. The Nintendo World has some screwed up politics.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 8
|Aesthetic Score: 13
|Overall Score: 50%|