Silver Surfer on the NES is quite possibly the hardest video game I have ever played, but for all the wrong reasons. The difficulty in this licensed Marvel game is so unrelenting and unfair, you have to wonder if any of the developers play tested any of it.
Silver Surfer is a rail-shooter, with five stages selectable from a stage select menu, Mega Man style. The levels are either displayed as vertical or horizontal shooters, so at least the game tried to add what variety it could with the game’s limitations.
But here’s where things really go south. Every level is reminiscent of a bullet hell game, with everything in sight firing at you with little breathing space. That in itself would be fine, except for one devastating flaw: you die in one hit!
Yes, Silver Surfer, one of the most powerful Marvel heroes, can’t withstand even a single hit from even the most minor of foes. I can’t imagine how anyone on the game’s production team thought that a one-hit kill scenario would work in the game’s favor when there are constantly things trying to kill you at all sides.
To make matters worse, many elements of the game make things all the more unfair. There are some enemies that shoot at you before they even appear on screen. Others will spawn so rapidly you have little (if any) time to avoid them. Many enemy projectiles are so small you can barely see them. Many enemies have unpredictable movement patterns, leaving you to simply hope your shots hit them. There’s just so much working against the player it’s cruel.
Things are even more painful in the vertical stages, where there is no clear definition as to what areas you can fly over/through and which ones you can’t. You may look like you’re flying through a cramped hallway (again, with everything in sight shooting at you), but sometimes you can fly through (over?) the walls and other times you crash and die if you barely touch them. It’s downright unfair.
Silver Surfer is also murderous on the thumb. This is a game where you constantly have to be shooting back at enemies non-stop, but you can’t simply hold the fire button to constantly shoot projectiles. You have to keep pressing the button repeatedly, non-stop, if you want to destroy anything. Expect to have a cramped thumb after play sessions.
On the bright side (if you can even call it that), the levels do contain some checkpoints, though there are no visual or audio cues to let you know when you reach them. It hardly matters anyway, because when you get a game over, you’ll have to start the level all over again anyway.
Silver Surfer on NES is a textbook example of how not to make a game difficult. It’s idea of challenge is nothing short of obscene. It demands a superhuman level of reflexes and patience. It stacks insurmountable odds against the player, and then continues to stack even more on top of that. Everything about its difficulty just comes off as unfair and trollish. If it weren’t for the sometimes-awesome soundtrack, Silver Surfer would be a complete waste, due to its near-unplayable difficulty.