Retro Video Game Review: Ikari Warriors (NES)

Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Video game development company SNK is respectable, having made significant contributions to arcades, consoles, and even in certain genres, like the shoot-‘em-up. They are also responsible for Ikari Warriors being released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), though; at least, in publishing, as Micronics was responsible for the actual development. For that, they should be ashamed.


Ikari Warriors is an arcade port overhead-view action shooter; not of the spaceship shoot-‘em-up variety, but actually controlling an on-screen soldier protagonist, and can be played in either one-player or two-player mode. A vague plot establishes that two muscular, shirtless men have crash-landed in a foreign jungle that is utterly infested with gun-toting goons and enemy vehicles, which all must be conquered by obliteration via small arms warfare and the occasional tank rental.

This is not a fast-paced side-scrolling blast-‘em-apart like Contra, nor is it a fun endurance trial like Guerilla War, though certainly very similar in its basic gameplay style. No, Ikari Warriors is a stupid-hard challenge of endless, boring drone play. Whatever you do, keep this in mind: You have a limited amount of grenades (tossed with the A button), a limited amount of bullets (fired with the B button), three lives, no continues, the magical ability to die in one hit, and the absolute imperative to utilize every tank or helicopter you come across, because they are your only chance of getting through the game alive, unless you are either a Nintendo god or have way too much time on your hands to practice this every day for ten years.

The pacing is slow. The rounds fired do not go all the way across the screen unless you pick up the “F” power-up, supposedly for “fire,” which makes fired rounds go through enemies. There are other power-ups, like a knife, meaning you no longer die just by walking into enemy troopers. When driving the tank, hold the A button to change the barrel trajectory to fire in the d-pad-pressed direction. At first this seems like a cool, early implementation of a strafing mechanic; in reality, as you will soon realize, it is very limiting to only be able to fire in one direction unless taking actual time to redirect the barrel.

There is a point system, other power-ups, helicopters, several levels with several gates per level, stationary targets, weird “little Athena” point items, golden hearts that make you as amazing as possible, etc. This is not an instruction manual, though: This is a review. So let us just judge this thing, get it over with, and leave the details to online instruction booklet scans and FAQs.


This game looks fairly standard; neither terrible nor outstanding, serviceable and okay. There are some flickering issues when a lot is going on during gameplay, but to Ikari Warrior’s credit, it is actually less than one may expect, given the sheer amount of bullets, enemies, vehicles, and other elements all being animated at the same time, especially compared to some other NES cartridges. The explosion components look alright, if not a little small and underwhelming. As for the death animation, for either the player or enemy soldiers, where they slowly fall backward for a few moments before blinking away from existence – it is a little odd, but ultimately is somewhat of a recognizable signature for this game.


The effects are disappointing. Little piffs, puffs, whooshes, and swishes are heard where booms, bangs, and kablammos should be instead. Yes, the Nintendo Entertainment System had its limitations, but surely the gunfire could have had more punch. For whatever reason, it does not. The music is ambitious, going for a “Flight Of The Valkyries” sort of feel, and comes up a little short, but is not too shabby of an attempt at high-concept background accompaniment at high pitch, relatively, throughout.


Between the Rambo movie, the Contra games, other topdown war simulations like Guerilla War, and all the odd NES titles that basically have the exact same plot, it is tough to tell which elements of Ikari Warriors are truly creative at all, if any. If anything, unfortunately, the things it is most known for are not really positive: Slow pacing, the torturous downward crawl of the scroll effect, the fadeaway-shot death animation, and the utterly unforgiving difficulty. Ikari Warriors is the sort of game that two bored buddies would elect to play at 2 a.m. just to kill time, only to lose all their lives within five minutes and decide, “Yeah, let’s never play that again, that was dumb, and not fun at all.” Ergo, a rating of one and a half stars out of five, for adequate production value not quite matched by replay value.

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