10 Things Silver Surfer Got Right

Posted by Steven Collier on Apr. 7th, 2016

Silver Surfer is an interesting game. At a glance, it's a typical shoot 'em up (or SHMUP for short) for the Nintendo. It plays a lot like the famous space battle simulator Gradius for the NES. However unlike Gradius, the legacy of Silver Surfer is somewhat tarnished.
Whenever this game is mentioned on our social media feeds, it's quickly met by a public outcry from those who call it "the most unfairly difficult game ever made." This seems a little extreme to me, especially since the NES was home to no shortage of challenging titles.  So, I decided to revisit this game and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Here are the 10 things that Silver Surfer got right:

10. Level Select

Just like the legendary Megaman series for the Nintendo, Silver Surfer features a level select. This is an insanely useful feature for a SHMUP. Most of the games in this genre will require you to memorize the dangers of each level. However, this is easier said than done when most of those games force you back to level one, whenever it's game over. There's nothing more frustrating than finally beating one section of the game, and then having to tackle it again, because you were totally unprepared for the death traps ahead.
Silver Surfer is actually quite forgiving in its decision to let you practice any level you want, until you've mastered it. It removes the countless hours you'd otherwise waste replaying sections of the game you'd already conquered.

9. Check Points

Another bonus is that most levels actually feature checkpoints. This means that you won't even have to replay the entire level if you die. Instead, every time you fall, you'll pick up somewhere further along in the level. It's another smart feature that will help you learn the dangers of every stage as quickly as possible.

8. Two Ways to Play

One thing you cannot deny about Silver Surfer is that it has variety. The stages alternate between both side-scrolling and top-down SHMUP levels. It keeps things fresh, and shows that this game really went the extra mile in the presentation department.

7. An Unthinkable Number of Enemies

Considering the limitations of the NES' hardware, Silver Surfer really manages to pack a lot of action onto the screen.  The NES cannot produce more than 64 distinct on-screen sprites at any time, including the ones that make up stage hazards, and the bullets you shoot. With that in mind, Silver Surfer is a game that genuinely tries to push the NES to its limits. While it's true that having a legion of baddies attacking you at every turn will not make for an easy game, it's genuinely impressive that Silver Surfer can render so many at once.

6. Tons of Levels

Another great touch about this game is just how much variety there exists between its levels. You'll travel raging rapids, prehistoric jungles, mechanical caverns, haunted mansions, the fiery depths of hell, and of course space. Seriously, what kind of Silver Surfer game would this be if you didn't go to space? And to top it off, every area is loaded with its own unique enemies. Regardless of what else you might say, there's no denying that the game developers made sure this game was always a treat for the eyes.

5. The Tunes

The sound design is equally strong. Silver Surfer's soundtrack is consistently energetic, intense, and just a joy to hear. Its soundtrack sizzles with the sounds of 8-bit heavy metal, replete with screaming guitar riffs, and a relentlessly pummeled percussion section. It does a lot to make you feel like you're screaming across the multiverse on the most epic surfboard ever drawn. Great stuff.

4. Tight Controls

Okay, so the game looks pretty and sounds nice. Big whoop. How does it play? Well, the answer to that is: surprisingly well. Despite how much screen space he takes up, the Surfer is actually pretty maneuverable. And that's a good thing. I mean, this is a SHMUP. If he controlled like a tank, the game would be unplayable. Despite being a large target, his responsive handling makes controlling the Marvel comics icon more than manageable.

3. Screen Clearing Bombs

The title says it all. In my book, any title that gives you items to insta-kill everything on screen, is automatically disqualified from being "the most unfairly difficult game ever made." Silver Surfer knows that it's going to put you into some tight spots. A lot of tight spots. So if ever you're feeling overwhelmed, breathing room is just one button press away. Boom. Suddenly, you have the entire screen to yourself, along with a much needed moment to catch your breath.

2. Multi-Directional Guns

Okay, this was actually pretty novel. Throughout the game, Silver Surfer can collect your usual assortment of SHMUP power-ups, including little turret guns that float around him and offer secondary streams of bullets. However, what makes these stand out is that you could actually reposition the direction in which they fired. Want some cover fire in case some punk tries to sneak up behind you? Done. Want to have a steady hail of fire flanking you on both sides of the top-down sections? Done. Do you just want to triple-down on the damage hurtling towards anything standing in front of you. Done. This feature opened up a ton of options for varied strategies, and ensured you always had a means of providing cover-fire for yourself.


Wait. Wuzzat? You thought I was going to pretend this game wasn't tough as nails? Heavens, no! Silver Surfer is brutal. It's the kind of game that will beat you up, steal your lunch money, and then expect you to be grateful it took time from its busy schedule to wreck you. And if this were any other game, that would be a bad thing. However, I contend that every aspect of this game is intentionally designed to be unforgiving. And with that in mind, I don't think you can call it "unfairly hard." In fact, I think it's great!

Silver Surfer wants nothing short of perfection from its players. It wants you to flawlessly traverse every level, dispatch every enemy, and dodge every attack. But, its level select and checkpoints are designed in such a way as to make scouting out each area's dangers a breeze. Once you know what to expect, it gives you aimable guns to lay down suppressing fire at every new threat before it even appears on screen. And if all else fails, you always have a handful of bombs to wipe out everything, when things get too dicey. And yes, if you so much as brush against a wall, you will die. But the controls are smooth enough that you can't blame them for your defeat. For every obstacle, there's a counter-strategy, provided you have the skill to execute it. And that's what this game does: it forces your video gaming skills to the absolute limit.

It's not a game for the faint of heart. But for what it is, Silver Surfer is a beautiful, merciless game.
And if you beat it, you'll definitely feel like a superhero.

Buy Silver Surfer - For the NES

But, I doubt this article is going to win over everyone. Do you still think this game is unreasonably hard? Do you think I must be mental to call it genuinely "fun?" Feel free to let me know in the comments section. After all, I played Silver Surfer, I can handle some constructive criticism.

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