Today at VGJunk: an unlicensed NES game. Maybe I really do hate myself. What other reason could there possibly be for playing an unlicensed NES game? I could be playing a Mega Man or a Castlevania but no, I have made myself a guinea pig in an experiment to see just how much sprite flicker one man can stand, without the shining golden aegis of the Nintendo Seal of Approval to to protect me. So, here it is: Sachen (under the pseudonym Joy Van) and Color Dreams' 1990 throwing-knives-into-mouths-em-up Silent Assault.

Of course it's going to be a silent assault, our hero is a green plastic toy soldier and they're generally not the most talkative bunch. I'm looking forward to taking on the enemy with the weapons our hero has managed to scrounge up - a gun that looks at though it has tin foil crumpled over the barrel, (possibly as a makeshift silencer,) and a shard of broken glass. That's what your tax dollars are going towards, citizens of whatever nation Private Plasticine belongs to.

Okay, so this one isn't going to be a graphical tour-de-force. We already knew that, right? Unlicensed NES game, and so on. Silent Assault is going to look like the proverbial bulldog licking piss off a nettle, if the dog, the piss and the nettle were built out of Duplo. Also, the title Silent Assault implies our hero was aiming for a certain amount of stealth, which is rather undermined by his decision to fly into the battle zone on Barbie's Dream Hang-Glider.

At first glance, Silent Assault appears to be a familiar left-to-right scrolling military-themed run-n-gun adventure, and for the most part that's exactly what it is. Then you look a little closer and start noticing details that seem a little out of place. For instance. the thing towards the bottom-right of the screen that looks like a pink knife is our hero's projectile. Is he throwing knives around instead of using a gun? Maybe! Your guess is as good as mine. Then there's the pink thing flying through the sky, the one that looks like a dripping turtle shell. It's bombarding the player with small pink lumps. What is it? You might be thinking "can I jump on it, it looks a bit like those flying Koopa platforms from Super Mario 3," but you cannot. You can shoot it, ignore it, or ponder it's existence. Those are your three options.
On reflection, I think it's an alien. Reading the meagre amount of information about Silent Assault that exists, it seems the plot of the game involves a lone soldier - basically the only kind of soldier in videogames - fighting an extraterrestrial menace. The aliens may have taken control of the Earth's military. That's the best I can do with the plot of this one, folks. I reckon I've still thought about one thousand percent more than Sachen did. I imagine the planning meeting for this one consisted solely of "SOLDIER SHOOT ALEIN" written on a napkin in crayon.

Okay, I want to know what's in that truck. Is it ice cream? It looks like it could be ice cream. Although, if it's an alien ice cream truck is probably full of unsettling flavours that exist in a realm beyond man's understanding. Glorploid Entrails, Caramel and The Full Realisation of Your Insignificance in an Uncaring Universe, Neapolitan With The Chocolate and Strawberry Removed, that kind of thing.
The gameplay, then. Your soldier, who I'm going to call Soldier because I'll be damned if I put more effort into naming him than his creators did, can walk and jump and fire his knife-gun, all the things you'd expect him to be able to do. He can even crouch, and aim his gun straight upwards, which is two more moves than I anticipated him having. You have a health bar and a limited supply of screen-clearing grenades. Combine these moves to get to the end of the stage. It works, oh, what's the word I'm looking for here? Okay. That's it. It works okay. I couldn't think of any major grievances I had with the controls. In fact, I can barely remember what it actually felt like to play Silent Assault: the action is so bland, so generic, that it is scarcely capable of leaving an imprint on the human mind. It is the very definition of "middling NES action game," which was a merciful relief when I was playing the game but it makes it rather difficult to describe after the fact.

I was so fascinated by this tiny pink house, my mind racing with the possibilities of who could live there and what the rent is like, that I forgot that the thing on the floor that looks like an oversized peanut is in fact a deadly land mine that will kill Soldier on contact. I'm picking up some haziness on the developer's part around what constitutes a "military" theme. Soldiers and guns, yes, that's fine. The ice cream truck? Well, it was oddly painted but I'm sure it was still supposed to be a canvas-covered army vehicle. Then you get to the exploding peanuts and toll booth for the fairy-folk and I'm suddenly wondering whether the Army recruitment slogan shouldn't have been "Be the Best, as long as you can fit into this beach hut for elves."

"Maybe the boss of this stage will make more sense," thinks Soldier as he makes his way into the giant pink wedge that serves as the boss' lair. It would be cruel to laugh at his naivete. Let's allow him his happy dreams.

Boss No. 1: Wally Two-Guns.
Because there are two guns, you see. "Cannons" might be a better word, I suppose. The one at the top fires energy balls downwards, while the bottom gun is more advanced: it represents the very pinnacle of anti-gravity technology, because the missiles it fires travel so slowly that they must be being held aloft by powerful magnets or, in keeping with this so-far unimpressive alien invasion, strings. They're not difficult to dodge. Shoot the cannons, the cannons explode, stage one is over.

Stage two is, erm, well, it's this. It's very pastel. It's a scientific installation decorated like the toddler section of a 1980's Toys R Us. What is the intended function of this building? Am I even indoors? Because that could easily be the sky. Speaking of doors, where the hell does that pink one next to our hero lead? Nowhere, and it's just a spare baby-pink door propped up in the middle of this (I'm going to hazard a guess here) factory? I certainly can't interact with it or anything.

The wall-mounted thermometer tells me the temperature is a balmy what-the-hell-is-going-on degrees. Good job Soldier wore his short-sleeved fatigues!

Hang on, so this whole level was actually an elaborate prison designed just to hold one inmate, an inmate so traumatised by the Care Bears as a youth that the prison was painted in pastel blues and pinks to help keep them restrained? There's definitely... I was going to say "a person" but I'm going to revise that to "something," behind those bars. Maybe it's an ally, someone who can explain to Soldier why he's just fought his way through the multiverse's worst Mega Man stage.

Boss No. 2: Metal Gear(s).
This isn't a prisoner at all! It's cogs. Just cogs. Sometimes the big cogs produce little cogs that roll towards Soldier, giving him a nasty graze on the shin. Better get some antiseptic on that graze, Soldier! Then launch your projectiles at the two red cogs until they explode. The top one's easy enough to deal with, but the bottom one is one of those annoying videogame targets that requires you to press fire at a very specific and fiddly point during a jump. It's very easy to fire either fractionally too low or high, and every boss in Silent Assault suffers from this problem, just in case you though it was reaching surprising levels of playability for an unlicensed NES game.

There are more strange colour choices on stage three, especially the tiny toytown tank, currently decked out in watermelon camouflage. The stage is meant to represent some kind of military base, with rockets and fighter jets in the background, but that doesn't explain the flame-spouts that seem to be powered by huge novelty matches, or that building back there that looks like a burger on a plinth.

I mean I think these are supposed to be fighter planes. They look just enough like fighter planes that you'd accept them as such on first glance, but they do not hold up well to deeper scrutiny, which is a decent metaphor for Silent Assault as a whole. Also fun is Soldier's prone pose, with his leg kicked into the air in the manner of a teenage girl talking on the telephone. "Hi, Cindy! Oh, nothing much, just fighting aliens. Did you see Josh in the barracks today? He is so dreamy!"

Boss No. 3:  This Bullshit
"What if we just crapped out the most boring boss we can possibly think of and put it near the start of the game? Once the player gets past it, all the subsequent bosses will seem better than they actually are!"
"Kid, you're a genius. Have a million dollars and the keys to my Ferrari."

Next up is the desert. What's in the desert? Cacti, vaguely "Asian" pagodas and the Stig. Or is it a mummy? My first thought was that it's a mummy, but I think I was overly influenced by the desert theme because it doesn't look much like a mummy at all. Whatever they are, this stage has them. What this stage doesn't have is level design, unless you're generous enough to count "drawing a straight line" as design. Yes, from here on out all of Silent Assault's stages are flat left-to-right walks with nothing but enemies and indecipherable background graphics standing between you and the goal. With the levels set out this way you might be tempted to start jumping over some of the enemies rather than wasting time killing them, but that's not a great idea because - and hold on to your hats, this one's a real shocker - the collision detection isn't very good. Oddly, it's only bad on the horizontal plane: vertically it seems fine, and you'll make it over obstacles okay, but Soldier's hitbox is much bigger horizontally than his sprite is so you'll end up being hurt by enemies that appear to be safely behind you.

Boss No. 4: A Skull. Wait, really?
Yes, a skull. Floating around, shooting out smaller skulls, the same as all the other bosses in the game only bonier. At least it's a bit more interesting visually than the others. Of particular note is the wiggling blue thing in it's eye socket. This is clearly a worm which is piloting the deadly skull, the Maverick of maggots, an annelid Amuro Ray. That's why you have to jump up to juuust the right height and shoot the skull in the eye. You're taking out the pilot, you see.

Another high-tech base now. Even the enemy soldiers are more high-tech than before, they've got jetpacks and everything. Soldier himself has turned pink with envy! Okay, so he's turned pink because he's picked up a temporary invincibility item. Silent Assault does have a few power-ups for you to collect, the invincibility ones being both the most common and the most useful, but there are also life-replenishing hearts and a rifle that upgrades your throwing knife to a rapid-fire machine gun. Sadly you lose the rifle if you take damage, and because there's so much in the stages that wants you dead you're unlikely to be able to hold onto the rifle for long.

Oh, it's one of those religious futuristic tech-labs, is it? I know I've spent this entire article banging on about the baffling nature of the random assortment of unconnected elements that make up Silent Assault, but seriously, if someone can tell me what that cross is supposed to represent, the geometry of it, where it is in relation to the other objects in the room, anything, I will be grateful. Until then, I'm going to get the Church of England on the phone and explain to them that I might have a lead on why church attendance is falling.

Boss No. 5: Computer Mouth.
Imagine if your computer screen one day suddenly grew a mouth and started reciting all the embarrassing things it had seen you do on the internet, quietly at first but gradually getting louder and louder until you're forced to unplug it and all seems well... but then your mum comes around to visit and the computer screen switches itself on, without power, without being connected to anything, and screams "HE ALMOST BOUGHT KINDLE DINOSAUR EROTICA, IT WAS IN HIS BASKET AND EVERYTHING" at the top of its voice. You'd want to throw knives into it's mouth, right? Right. So let that be your motivation for fighting this boss.

All the fun of the fair now, where bizarre hybrids of pig, monkey and children's television nightmare Pob throw things at Soldier. It's still more fun than a real-life funfair.

C'mon, Sachen, if you're going to show me a giraffe slide with a staircase coming out of it's arse then at least let me climb on it, for pity's sake. I actually did try to climb on it, despite knowing full well it was just part of the background. Why wouldn't you make this something Soldier can interact with? I'm not asking for a special animation where he slides down the giraffe's neck (although that would have been nice) but these levels desperately need something, anything to make them more than flat planes of unrivalled tedium.

Boss No. 6: That Nightmare You Keep Having.
A garish face that I want to describe as "clownish" even though I think that's just because it follows the funfair stage, this boss is weird. Weird for the already very weird Silent Assault, even. Then you realise that it's body is a giant shoe and the weirdness meter clicks up another couple of notches. The big question is whether or not there's a foot inside that shoe. A big, fleshy foot with a sleepy-eyed clown's head attached to the ankle, flapping around like a freshly landed trout, all sweaty and moist, pressing down on top of you and squeezing the breath from your lungs. This alien invasion is fucked up.

Thank god for the utterly generic woodland stage. It's just trees. I can handle trees. Even the enemies have a friendly face, or are a friendly face. That's a much better invasion tactic. No-one's going to trust Squelchy the Clown Foot but a fluttering smiley face can get close to its targets, gain their confidence, learn their secrets. That's espionage, that is.

In one of the most hilariously half-arsed attempts to make a game interesting I have ever seen, the woodland stage offers Silent Assault's one and only moving platform. You have to jump on that little brown log and ride it across this pond. Enemies above you? Well for Christ's sake, whatever you do don't aim upwards and shoot at them, because doing so locks you in place while the moving platform continues on its merry way, eventually dumping you in the deadly water. Get to the other side and take a moment to congratulate yourself on surviving Silent Assault's most fiendish challenge!

Boss No. 7 Whispy Woods.
Okay, sure, whatever. Aliens landed and brought a spooky Halloween tree to life. The withered, dead tree attacks by spitting fire, which is kinda ballsy. It's like me attacking someone by using a live cobra as a whip, there's a lot of room for it to backfire.
Beating the tree takes Soldier to the final stage, which isn't a stage but just a battle against the final two-part boss. Who is the leader of the aliens? What dastardly force have they set in place as their final guardian? Can Soldier overcome the terror of... the Sphinx?!

Boss No. 8a: The Sphinx.
Ha ha, just look at his expression. He used to be a revered figure in Egyptian mythology, now he's reduced to spitting out bubbles and he is not happy about it. That's definitely the face of someone working under duress. I wonder what the aliens are using to blackmail the Sphinx into working as a bubble machine? This being a videogame, the bubbles are naturally lethal to the touch, and while the sheer amount of them can seem a little overpowering at first there are plenty of gaps in the lather for Soldier to stay safe. Jump up and shoot the Sphinx in his curmudgeonly face a few times to claim victory. I know you can do it, Soldier. You made it past the Clown Foot, you can do anything.
Defeating the Sphinx is only the first part of the fight, however. Take him down and you move on to phase two...

Boss No. 8b: The Sphinx.
Ha ha, just look at his expression. He used to be a revered figure in Egyptian mythology, now he's reduced to spitting out bubbles and he is not happy about it. That's definitely the face of someone working under duress. I wonder what the aliens are using to blackmail the Sphinx into working as a bubble machine? This being a videogame, the bubbles are naturally lethal to the touch, and while the sheer amount of them can seem a little overpowering at first there are plenty of gaps in the lather for Soldier to stay safe. Jump up and shoot the Sphinx in his curmudgeonly face a few times to claim victory. I know you can do it, Soldier. You made it past the Clown Foot, you can do anything.
No, seriously. You beat the first Sphinx, move one screen forward and fight another, identical Sphinx. That's the end of the game. Then there's whatever this is supposed to be.

This is the whole ending - Andy Warhol-esque pop art portraits of a man in a cravat and five purple stars arranged carefully on a plinth. They look like those magnetic metal building block, only shit. That's it, that's all you get for being tenacious or stupid enough to play all the way through Silent Assault. Those of you who like to over-analyse pop culture, take your best shot at whatever this is intended to represent because I do not have a clue.

That's Silent Assault, and by the time you've played through game and heard the same music track play on every single stage then you'll wish the title was literally true. I like to look for the good in every game I play, even unlicensed NES trash, but for this one I cannot come up with much of anything. It's good that not every stage was a military base, I suppose? And the gameplay is at least competent, which is lavish praise indeed for a Sachen game - it's definitely a lot better than Hell Fighter, I'll give it that. However, my final recommendation is that you play Contra or Rush'n Attack instead unless you're deeply into the pastel aesthetic.

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