The Fair Shake

Top Gun: NES

Greetings readers! Carl is strapping his helmet on. He’s ready to be your wingman, anytime. Do you feel the need… for speed? If these mildly cheesy lines ring a bell, they should, as they are from that great action film of the 80’s, Top Gun. In memory of the now retired F14 Tomcat, I present Top Gun.

The guy waving the plane on looks like Kenny Loggins

Top gun was originally released for several home computer systems as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System, in 1987. The NES release sold extremely well at the time, with over 2 million copies having been sold. For a certain generation, if asked to name the first game they played flying a jet, it’d be either Top Gun for NES, or perhaps After Burner in either the arcade or one of the home Sega systems. I’ll even direct a silent nod to you, the guy in the back, who was just yelling “What about F-15 Strike Eagle?”

A great game, but not this week’s focus.

Top Gun puts you loosely in the role of Maverick, from the movie of the same title. (no Kelly McGillis or motorcycles, unfortunately). You play as an unnamed pilot in control of an F-14 Tomcat. You are presented various missions, from a training run in the sky, to destroying enemy bases, air craft carriers and even a space shuttle (!). The game also requires you to master midair refueling and landing on an aircraft carrier, which for some reason has stumped gamers for years. (It’s not that hard, more on that later). To aid in your mission, your jet is given ‘guns’ with infinite ammo, and a finite number of missiles, which you can choose at the beginning of each mission. Quanity or increased firepower, pick one.

Why no “T-44: Hippo”?

There isn’t much to actually flying the plane, so you can concentrate on shooting enemy targets and avoiding their weapons at the same time. Easier said than done, in some cases. In later levels, you are almost under a constant barrage of missiles. Interestingly, you can avoid them by getting them off the screen. What you can’t see, can’t hurt you, I suppose. The radar screen is helpful to indicate ground targets, but in all honesty flying enemies move so fast that the radar is useless for anything more than a quick check of “on your left” or “on your right”.

Missile Away!

Graphically, Top Gun is great. I feel it still holds up even today as a simple quick to play flight sim/shooter. The cockpit has a straight forward display with a nice horizon indicator. Numerical displays for missile counts, alitude and speed are nice and clear. The radar gets the job done. There is no Heads Up Display for leading a target with guns, but hey, this is a quick NES game, not Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat. Enemy planes ships and land targets are easily identified for what they are.

Red screen of death

From the moment of take off, you get the impression that this is serious. Especially with that generic rocking 80’s tune playing.  There’s a constant whir of a jet engine that changes in tone with the altitude of your plane. Enemy planes all sound the same, while their weapons are silent.The lock on noise from an enemy missile still angers me, as I suppose it should. Sadly, there is no “Danger Zone”. Of course, you should have this cranked while you play the game, so really it’s a moot point. You could listen to Berlin, but I’m not going there…

Play control is straight forward and a bit simplistic, but nevertheless, non flight sim people may be confused… Pushing up on the directional pad causes the plane to dive, as in real life, and pushing down on the controller directional causes the plane to pull up. A Button shoots your guns, while a tap of B locks a missile. Pressing it again fires it. (Hint: Press B quickly to get missiles out in a rapid fire succession.) Unfortunately there is no pause in this game, so you’re in for the long haul. You cannot crash into the ground, do barrel rolls, or deviate from your ultimate destination.

Get yourself connected…..

I had to include something regarding landing. It’s really not hard. In fact, here’s a small video (first TFS video!) I made regarding the process.

TL;DW? Ignore the on screen directions, and just go for the altitude and speed. Aim for the end of the deck. Top Gun was the first NES flight sim. Simple to play, yet, not. Have you beaten it? There are multiple endings for the game, depending on your score. If you do succeed in beating the game, pressing start restarts the game with a higher difficulty. How high can you get your score? Give Top Gun the Fair Shake.


8.5 stars from the Russians.