Airwolf Review: C64 & Nintendo Entertainment System

One incredible attack helicopter. Two unique gaming platforms. Only one can emerge victorious while the other skulks through life as a defeated loser, eventually moving into a run down unit on the outskirts of Broadmeadows where it will live out its remaining days addicted to Meth and re-runs of Survivor.  James Matson gets all judge, jury and executioner on Airwolf for the C64 and NES.

There is absolutely no disputing that the theme from Knight Rider is the greatest TV tune ever trotted out on the worldwide stage. No no, don’t dispute it, you’re only making a fool of yourself.  Relax, give in, submit yourself to that tacky 80s goodness. It’ll hurt less if you don’t struggle.  Of course, if Knight Rider is king of the 80s TV show themes, then Airwolf is an easy runner up.  From 1984 to 1987 Airwolf – a show about a military attack helicopter and its cold war fightin’ crew – reigned supreme.

It was the ultimate mix of cheese and chopper action and while you could debate the overall tackiness of the series till dawn, the fact remains that several game publishers thought it worthy of consumption in video game format.  I discovered recently that I had Airwolf the video game for both the C64 and NES, so decided to pit them against each other in an old fashioned head-to-head. The results may confound scholars and scientists for decades to come.

Okay, probably not, but there’s always a chance…

It turns out that the titles are brethren in name alone and are entirely different beasts, as fit for direct comparison as David Letterman and a hot dog. If you want the version choc-full of brevity, here it is; The C64 version is fun, and the NES version is utter tripe.

I mean utter shit-on-the-bottom-of-your-shoe Gonorrhea tripe.

The NES version takes the form of a flight simulator, which should be the first clue as to its tripey nature. The NES is a fantastic gaming platform, it’s the home of legendary titles, incredible game play and amazing experiences. It is not however, capable of simulating any kind of flight.  Its tiny Ricoh CPU makes a mockery of commanding the skies, managing to dribble out an uninspiring flat green ‘ground’ and a flat blue ‘sky’ from your HUD combined with the worlds most annoying chopper blade sound whirring constantly throughout the game. You shoot at blocky things that hover out in front of you – we think they’re planes – which consequently explode into other blocky things.

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Oh, and there’s a night mode – but that’s just tripe in the dark.

In all fairness, it’s pretty gutsy that developer Imagineering Inc. even attempted a 3D flight sim on the NES, but you don’t get points for guts in the world of gaming, only results, and the NES Airwolf falls flat.

The C64 version published by Elite on the other hand, takes a side scrolling approach to the Airwolf franchise and does so with reasonably good results. You have to navigate the attack chopper through a series of caverns rescuing stranded people and avoiding lasers, falling rocks and flying saucers. Now I’ve chosen to ignore the little things, like the fact the people you’re rescuing are easily almost the size of your attack chopper (indicating they could possibly be mutants and should likely stay in the caverns), or the fact flying saucers feature in the game when it’s pretty vague how they fit into the overarching story.  We’re going to look past those things because the game is actually fun.

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Your chopper is in constant motion, so you must carefully balance your movements so as not to hit any walls or objects during your rescue attempts, which takes constant attention and a deft touch. It’s fiendishly hard and many will probably never finish the game, but it’s definitely fun and certainly craps comprehensively on the NES title.

Plus, the C64 rendition of the theme is superb (if short) and goes a long way toward educating people on the beauty that is the SID chip.

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The winner? C64 by an 8-bit mile. In a way, we feel good about this result, because it means that – at least as far as Airwolf is concerned – the C64 has demonstrated itself as the dominant platform over the often limelight grabbing Nintendo, and that won’t happen often.  One small win for the Commodore breadbox.