We have a bunch of episodes in this series - where we ask the question of whether a specific retro game is worthy a try. Make sure to click here to see which games we’ve already covered. We’d love to hear what you think about whether they where worth a try.
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Get ready to power up your nostalgia! In this solo episode of The Waffling Taylors, we’re diving head-first into the 8-bit wonders of the NES classic, Power Blade (or its Japanese counterpart, Power Blazer). It’s time to explore the highs, lows, and everything in between in the latest instalment of our ‘Worth a Try’ mini-series.
So, grab your power suit and let’s embark on a pixelated journey filled with boomerangs, robots, and a whole lot of retro gaming goodness!
Let’s do this.
What Is It?
Power Blade is a NES game that I genuinely think that Mega Man fans should check out; if they haven’t already that is. I mean, imagine if the Mighty Kid himself was less a robotic boy created by Dr. Thomas Light (or Right, if you’re Japanese) and more a tank-top wearing 80’s action movie hero very much akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger? And what if Mega Man’s trust arm cannon blaster was replaced with a boomerang?
I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s dial it back a bit.
Back in 1990, Natsume/Taito wanted to make a Mega Man II clone; their clone would be called Power Blazer, and would be very much like the second outing for the Knuckle Kid himself. It used a similar design aesthetic, similar enemies and similar level layouts. And looking at the critical reviews of Mega Man II, you can see why they wanted to - Famitsu gave it a 28/40, Mean Machines a 95%, and Total! an 83%, and it has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action.
And so Power Blazer was released to the Japanese public.
Power Blazer was slightly different to Mega Man II in that it had a linear story - where the Mega Man games would traditionally allow you to pick any starting stage - and the main character had a boomerang, rather than an arm cannon blaster - as I said earlier.
Between its Japanese and North American releases however, the game had a full rework. The design aesthetic was changed from the cutesy Mega Man II-inspired look and feel to that of an 80s action movie. Almost everything about the game changed, except for the UI, the music, and the story. The player character, named Nova in both versions, was swapped from a Rockman look-a-like to an Arnold Schwarzenegger style hero.
In either game, it’s the player’s job to collect 6 computer tapes (this was a game made at the tail end of the 80’s after all), and use them to override the security around the Master Computer’s Control Center. Once there, the player simply needs to beat the Master Computer.
In the Western Release of Power Blade, the player could choose the order of the stages (even replaying some of the completed stages if they wanted), but also had to meet with double agents in the stages before they could take on that stage’s boss and nab the security tape.
Sounds simple, eh?
Well, Power Blade is a pretty tough game and rewards players who know the routes around the stages.
The Music & Gameplay
As I said earlier, one of the few things to make it through the rework for the Western release was the music. And it slaps.
There are a lot of NES soundtracks which are legendary, and I could name drop a few. In fact, I will:
The Legend of Zelda
Super Mario Bros. 3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
even though the TMNT attract music was a clear rip off of Stone Cold Crazy by Queen
But I feel like Power Blade is seldom mentioned in the list of great NES soundtracks. I mean, without having to change a single beat, Yamashita Kinuyo’s music fit both the Mega Man II and 80s action movie vibe, and you can hear why:
Seriously how cool is this music? And you don’t even need to see the intro to know that Nova does superhero-landing when you start the game, you can HEAR it in the music.
In the tradition of most games of the time - and especially the Mega Man series - Nova moves from left to right, leaping between platforms, climbing ladders, and avoiding all manner of traps; all while blasting enemies with his boomerang. The story, such that there is one, is pretty flimsy. I’ll get Delilah to talk you through it:
In 2191, a computer known as…
I want to do it!
Whoops. One second folks. I have a little sibling rivalry to sort out.
Now Russell, we love you to bits - quite literally - but Delilah hasn’t had much of a chance to be on the show as of yet. Would you mind if she does it this one time? You can get the next one, honest.
Oh, ok. Go ahead Delilah
That’s very kind of you Russell. Thank you.
As I was saying
In 2191, a computer known as the Master Computer has gone a bit… well, wobbly. It’s locked everyone out of the different zones of a major population area.
It’s the player’s job, as Nova, to travel to six different areas, beat the bosses there, and find the security tapes guarded by those bosses. These security tapes will give the player access to the Master Computer’s inner sanctum.
Once there, they have to beat the Master Computer and all will be right with the world again
Very well put Delilah.
Thank you Jay
So, you have to take your Arnie knock off - seriously, the “press start” screen has a literal promo photo of Arnie from The Terminator in the background (check the show notes) - and boomerang your way through six stages. The platforming is pretty bog standard for NES titles of it’s day, without requiring TMNT-style pixel perfect jumps… much. And the stages are big enough that playing through all six and beating the boss will take you around 90 minutes - once you’ve learned the stage order.
Most enemies are taken down with between two and five hits from your boomerang, but there are powerups throughout the game which extend both it’s power and Nova’s throwing. Initially, Nova will have a boomerang that looks more like a set square (all right angled) and he’ll only be able to chuck it about 4 centimetres in front of him. But with the aid of the powerups found in the game, the boomerang will magically smooth off you a perfect curve that your average beach-going, boomerang chucker would be envious off.
And if you find the Power Blade - a rare powerup, with only six available in the entire game - you’ll become a mechanised, one man army of death and destruction wielding a neon pink boomerang that can take down almost anything in one hit. But watch out, because you can only take three hits before dropping the boomerang equivalent of a intercontinental ballistic missile to the face
Speaking of bosses, there are some… interesting boss designs in this game. From a mechanised dragon which can phase shift out of existence to a riot shield holding robot, and from a robot bee hive (because why not?) to a fat, green robot in a skirt that floats around shooting lightning out of it’s index finger, and finally to a giant head with goatee on a floating robotic platform.
Are you seeing the Mega Man II influences yet?
I poke fun, but these bosses are both challenging and mix the gameplay up quite a lot by adding some much needed “what the f*#k?” style design choices… just like almost all 8-bit boss characters did.
The Sequel We Don’t Talk About
Power Blade was followed up in 1992 with a sequel called… you guessed it “Power Blade 2”.
But what you might not have guessed is that the sequel was subtitled “Captain Saver”, reusing the Japanese title for the sequel - because why let go of a “good” name, right?
The sequel dropped most of the elements that the development team had “borrowed” from Mega Man, and replaced them with most of the elements and design of Metroid games. They added a ducking slide mechanic (duck, then press the jump button to slide under obstacles), and gave the game much more of a cyberpunk and dystopian aesthetic.
The sequel was ok… I guess. It certainly wasn’t a patch on the Western release of the original. And it also had a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the background of it’s “press start” screen (again, check the show notes) which had less of a Terminator vibe and more of a Commando one.
One of these days, I’m going to talk about all of the dodgy copyright theft that went on in these early games. From Michael Biehn as John Connor on the Metal Gear box art to the unlicensed use of Sonny Chiba for The Revenge of Shinobi start screen.
Anyway, do yourself a favour and skip Power Blade 2. It’s just not very good.
I could (and still do) play this game in a single sitting, on either difficulty and complete it in under an hour simply because of the amount of time I gave to this game [throughout my gaming career].
As soon as you get into one of the stages and start boomeranging your way through the enemies, you’ll start to realise that it’s very similar to Mega Man and Castlevania. There’s really only one pathway through each stage, with plenty of backtracking, but you can take on any of the six stages in which ever order you wish. Just like Mega Man, there’s an element of controlled non-linear progress through the game - and I really liked that about Power Blade back when I first played it.
I remember being blown away by this game because of the combination of the action, platforming and utter ridiculousness of the setup - he kills the bad guys with his boomerang?! - especially since it’s just accepted that NOVA has a boomerang and uses it in this high tech world.
Would I recommend this game? Definitely.
Is my recommendation based on nostalgia? More than likely.
Power Blade can feel a little clunky compared to the likes of Mega Man and Metroid, but it’s definitely worth an hour of your time.
I’d start with Stage 5 though. That one was always my favourite.
I mean, that says it all really.
You’ve just been listening to my thoughts on Power Blade for the NES, why it’s worth your time and why you should pick it up if you’ve never played it. It’s a ton of fun - just make sure to play the Western release (aka Power Blade) and avoid the sequel because it went too hard on the cyberpunky MetroidVania vibe and broke everything.
If you’ve been sent this episode by a friend (or a mortal enemy) or happened on it accidentally, I’d like you ask you to check out the website for the show at wafflingtaylors.rocks - we have another 180 episodes or seven years of our podcast for you to check out, and we have a section called Those Games We Played which lists every game we’ve ever mentioned, how many times we’ve mentioned it, and what we’ve said about them.
We have socials, they’ll be in the links, too. We have Twitter or X - whichever you want to call it. We have a discord. You will find the details in the description. We also stream on Twitch from time to time, and you can find our previous streams (and silly videos) on our YouTube channel. So do come check us out.
And with that I’ll say: definitely go check out Power Blade (or don’t, I’m not the boss of you) and:
The game may pause, but the fun never ends. Until you’ve stocked up on more continues, this is Jay signing off. Happy gaming!