When it came to bringing arcade games to the under-powered NES, developers normally chose to go one of two routes: Craft a graphically inferior or somewhat downgraded port of the coin-op experience (i.e Capcom’s Ghosts N’ Goblins, Konami’s TMNT II: The Arcade game,) or just take the name of the game and make something completely different (i.e Capcom’s Bionic Commando.) In bringing Captain America and The Avengers to the NES, Data East wisely chose to enter door number two, and the game really is all the better for it.
Captain America And The Avengers on the NES has a misleading title for several reasons. For one, you only play as two Avengers: Captain America and Hawkeye, who are out to rescue their fellows teammates Iron Man and Vision from the Mandarin. Secondly, it bears little resemblance to its arcade counterpart as it plays out as a side-scrolling action game as opposed to a beat-em-up.
Speaking of Bionic Commando, this NES port shares a few similarities to that game. You don’t play out stage by stage in a linear order, you move your two characters across a map of the United States to select whichever level is in your path, similar to how you moved your truck to the areas in Bionic Commando and then selected the level you wished to play. There’s also obstructions along the road, like the overhead truck stages in Bionic Commando, where you have to defeat an arbitrary number of enemies to proceed. To complete the game, you don’t even need to see a majority of the stages and can proceed down the path of least resistance should you choose to.
Success in Bionic Commando involved you collecting pellets from fallen enemies that increased your health meter upon getting a certain amount. Here, the collectibles (red gems that you get from hitting boxes not unlike Castlevania,) not only increase your life, but level up your characters abilities up to four levels. Captain America will have his shield go behind him when thrown before returning to him, while Hawkeye will gain powerful explosive arrows. Though it is a boring slog, like most level grinding is, I would advise getting both heroes to max level before you even proceed to the first boss area to give yourself a fighting chance.
There are other collectibles to gather, most that increase your score, while others increase your health or provide an extra life. Score means little other than those hunting for it, this isn’t a game where achieving a certain number warrants an extra life, but one item you need to keep your eye out for is the level exit orb. Without locating this item, any levels exit remains blocked until this is found.
Unlike Capcom’s swinging sensation which featured only one protagonist, this game features two. Initially both characters are at different places on the map, but if you move the two to the same level square, you can swap between the two in the game’s pause menu. Much like leveling up right away, getting the two together will help you greatly in your quest to recover your captured teammates. Captain America can dash at enemies and hang from certain ledges to reach higher platforms, while Hawkeye is great for attacking enemies that are in the air or hanging out of windows. Hawkeye probably ends up being the most important character in your arsenal, as at level four his hits and range are an excellent offense against the game’s bosses.
While having the two is great, losing a character is huge pain that not only makes it harder to proceed solo and also kills the pace as well. Once a character dies, you can complete the current level you’re in and then you can revive them, either by going back to the level that your partner is sent back to, or by collecting an “A” or “H” power up in a level which revives them so they can move independently again to meet up. It’s not a big deal early on, but late in the game when you lose a character, they’re sent back pretty far and you have to go backwards through the entire game, replaying every stage along the way. Of course, you can proceed solo, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
It wouldn’t be a problem if the levels were varied and interesting, but they come in only a few types: Forest, construction site, warehouse and city streets with the only change being, say, for a warehouse in New York and one in California is that one has orange walls while the other has green. The plot of the game has the two Avengers traveling from the state of Florida, up the east coast and throughout the rest of America, would it have been too much to put in a famous landmark or something? Increasing the repetition exponentially is the game’s music; one track each for both characters that is more grating than memorable.
Though few in number, the games bosses stand out and will test your 8-bit reflex skills. The intro boss, the Wizard, falls into the repeating pattern trope, but by the time you face off against the likes of the Mandarin and the Red Skull, you’ll need to be at the top of your game. You can actually play as the bad guys in a two player versus mode, but the mode is just two characters going head to head that won’t hold your attention for more than trying out it once.
I appreciate the effort that Data East put into making Captain America and The Avengers on the NES, as they could have just downgraded the arcade game and called it a day. Instead, we get not only a decent home conversion of the arcade game with the Sega Genesis port, as well as a pretty decent NES game that does more than enough justice to both the characters of Captain America and Hawkeye. If the levels and music had a little more variety I’d probably speak in a more positive manor of this game, but it’s still not something that should not be avoided should you come across it, though it is on the rarer side but not so much that it’ll set you back a hundred dollars or anything like that.