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Starship Hector


Hoskat

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Genre: Shooter

Publisher: Hudson Soft

Total time played: 40 Hours

Short review: A vertical and horizontal shooter that is easy to pick up and nearly impossible to master.


Interesting links related to Starship Hector


This Won’t Take Too Long

This was my first time playing Starship Hector. When my random number generator told me this was the next game I needed to play I immediately went to find TMR playing through the game on YouTube. I also went to www.NESMania.com and saw that the game received a fun rating of 10/10 and a difficulty rating of 4.5 out of 10. TMR beat the game in under 3 hours. I guess you don’t become the first guy to beat every NES game on camera without being really good at video games.

While I agree this is a very fun game and it is very polished with great music and responsive controls it is also one of the hardest games I’ve played for the blog up until now. I would give this a 9/10 or 10/10 for difficulty. What I thought was going to take a few hours ended up taking months.

What Kind of Game is it?

Starship Hector is a shooter that features 6 stages. The odd numbered stages are vertical shooters and the even number shooters are horizontal shooters that are broken up into two sections, an outdoor section and an indoor section.

How Do You Play?

Your ship is equipped with 2 shots, both have unlimited ammo and there are no upgrades or alternate weapons. The B button shoots your straight bullets that are used for hitting any enemy ships. The A button shoots a shot that attacks enemies and structures on the ground. In the vertical shooting stages this isn’t obvious, in the horizontal shooting stages B shoots straight and A lobs to the ground.

The goal of the game is to survive each stage and beat the boss at the end. You start with 3 lives and there are no continues. You earn an extra life at 200,000 points, 500,000 points and 1,000,000 points. Shooting as much stuff as possible is a necessity for 2 reasons:

  1. you need the points and the more stuff you shoot the more points you get
  2. if you don’t start killing the bad guys the screen gets overrun quickly causing the action to slow down and the bullets become invisible as they flicker because of the limited NES hardware.
stage-1.png?w=256The start of level 1, I saw this screen a lot

Are There Powerups?

There are not powerups in the traditional sense. You have the same guns throughout the entire game. Each stage features a structure that if you shoot it releases what look like mini hot dogs that replenish your health. I found these to be a double edged sword. Sure, it was nice to be able to replenish health but they were almost always placed in a spot that caused enemies to swarm and you have to decide do you want to shoot the bad guys or shoot the thing that spits out hotdogs. Many times I’d end up losing more health than I gained trying to eat the hotdogs.

Speaking of health, you do have a health bar and it is fairly substantial looking on the screen. But it really doesn’t mean much. If you hit a wall it is instant death, if you come into directly contact with an enemy it is instant death. It will provide a small buffer if you get hit by 2-3 bullets but for the most part the game feels like a one hit kill kind of game.

In the vertical levels there are a bunch of hidden spots on the ground that you can shoot with the A button. Some of these reveal what appears to be glowing wiring like you’d see on a computer motherboard, but, very small, maybe the size of a dime on the screen. Shooting this spot after it is revealed will destroy every ground enemy currently on screen. Many times it is necessary to reveal the spot and let the screen scroll to allow more enemies to appear before shooting it. This way you get the maximum benefit of the screen clearing item. Keep in mind, this has no effect on flying enemies.

stage-2.png?w=256Stage 2. What you can’t see here is those 4 orange guys on screen were about to shoot 12 bullets at me.

There are also hidden items that when shot a dozen or so times reveal a letter. These letters spell out H-E-C-T-O-R. I thought you’d get something for spelling out the word but you don’t. However, in level 5 one of the letters always seemed to give me a “Hector Bonus” which played some fun music and gave me a lot of points.

Ouch, My Arm!

I can honestly say this is the only game I’ve ever played where I physically am not strong enough to play it. There is no rapid fire and you have to shoot constantly if you stand a chance at surviving. Each run I’d have to change my grip multiple times and pause and stretch my right arm. After a single stage of mashing the buttons my forearm would start seizing up. I tried pulling out the NES Advantage controller and turning on the turbo which quickly killed all enemies. Unfortunately, I am not good with a joystick (that’s what she said) so I did worse than using the regular non-turbo controller.

Eventually I learned the levels so well I knew when I could lay off of constantly firing my weapon and give myself a couple of second break in each stage without pausing.

german-armwrestler-matthias-schlitte-melThis is what I felt like after playing through Starship Hector. My shooting arm got a good workout.

The Bosses

I have to say, as hard as the stages were the bosses were all pretty easy. Sure, I died several times on most of the bosses but I never felt like they were unfair. If I got hit it was my fault. There are no checkpoints in the game so if you get to the boss and die it is back to the start of the level.

stage-3-boss.jpeg?w=256Stage 3 Boss – Shoot his eyes closed to defeat him

AI Manipulation

I watched probably every video of people playing through this game on YouTube and learned a few things. In the first part of horizontal scrolling stages 4 and 6 if you move your ship to the top left corner of the screen above the icon showing how many lives you have left it makes the stages much easier. Most of the enemies go right by and never hit you and the few that can hit you are easily taken out. Once I discovered this those stages became much easier.

Going Against My Instinct

Another thing I learned in the horizontal stages is that you want to keep your ship close to the front of the screen. This seems counterintuitive as it gives you less time to react to enemies appearing from the right. But, many times the enemies appearing from the right are on the ground and you can take them out before they start firing bullets at you. I found this to be the saving grace on the last part of the final stage. Once I learned to move closer to the right edge of the screen than I was comfortable with I started doing better.

Don’t get me wrong, even with these tricks the game is tough and you really do have to just memorize it. If you don’t know where the enemies are coming from they are hard to react to. Luckily, the levels are all much harder than the bosses. If you can get to a boss 2-3 times you should be able to easily learn the pattern and take them out quickly.

It Sure Doesn’t Look That Hard

If you watched me play Starship Hector you’d think it didn’t look hard. The game looks to move at a slow pace and the way I’ve memorized every level makes it easy for me to dodge bullets and move my ship to prepare for the next threat. I’ve played so many times I could probably beat the first few levels with my eyes closed. I think if I played 2-3 times each night instead of 2-3 times per week I’d have beaten it long ago.

Final Level/Boss

The final level is a side scrolling level that features 2 sections, an outside section and an indoor. Once I learned that you can literally hang out in the top left corner of the screen in the outside section that part became very easy. The inside section will put all your skills and stamina to the test. There are a lot of one hit kills and if you can avoid them you still have the dozens of enemies and dozens of dozens of bullets to dodge. It didn’t happen often, but, once I learned the level inside and out I could sometimes get to the final boss with full health.

When this happened my heart rate went into overdrive and my right forearm was on fire from mashing the buttons to shoot the enemies in the level. The boss isn’t that hard but the anticipation of beating the game after months of trial and error really made the final minutes of the game an edge of my seat thrill ride.

The final boss has 2 phases. Phase 1 you must take out the shield surrounding it. You can shoot the shield or drop bombs on top of it. I found dropping bombs was safer so that is what I did. Phase 2 you must shoot the boss in the eye. I didn’t realize this for probably 4-5 attempts and continued to drop bombs from above which I didn’t realize didn’t damage the boss at all.

Once I found the secret rhythm of moving above the boss as far to the right side of the screen and wait for the boss to shoot 2 waves of bullets and then quickly moving the ship in front of the bosses eye to shoot it and repeating this the final boss became very easy.

screen-shot-2021-10-11-at-7.41.00-pm.pngThe final boss…it is giving off a bit of a Mother Brain from Metroid vibe.

Final Thoughts

While it did take me months to beat this game it wasn’t something I got to play every day. The game is fast paced and short so when I did have a chance to play I’d get 3-4 good attempts in. I’d usually stop once my arm got too sore and it was effecting my gameplay. By the day I beat the game every level felt almost like second nature. I should probably record myself playing through it before I lose the muscle memory. I never grew tired of the game as it is very well designed. I do think a more generous health bar, level check points and continues would have elevated my thoughts on this game. I have absolutely no complaints other than the difficulty. I feel like most people wouldn’t spend the time to give this one a chance, but, if you do you will find a very competent shooter.

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