Spotlight: Star Trek V
Who doesn't fondly remember Star Trek V? That was the one with Khan and… wait no. That was the one with the whales… no not that either. Oh yeah. Star Trek V: The Search for God (sic). Not exactly one of the shining moments in Star Trek history. The movie had its share of issues, and therefore it's not surprising that the NES game bearing the same name does as well.
Originally created in 1989, Bandai Entertainment planned the movie tie in for the NES, but it was cancelled for undisclosed reasons before it was released. The EGM Buyer's guide (1990) said, "Sometimes a movie title can make game development more difficult - especially when it's a space movie with no outer space shoot-ups or laser-blasting gun-fights. Is there more that could be included in this game beyond getting Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to sing 'Row, row, row your boat' in unison? Not likely - that could explain why Bandai backed out of the game." Having played through the game, this is not a bad theory. As we will see, there's just not enough game there, and where there is, it falls flatter than William Shatner's acting.
- by Doctor Zero
The Star Trek V game for the NES is mostly a side scrolling platformer in four parts. The third part is different from the others in that it involves piloting the Enterprise in a space-shooter style game play. Each part is relatively short, and aside from a completely obtuse way to solve opening a door in part 2, the game takes maybe a couple hours to play from start to finish - assuming you don't die repeatedly. This is the biggest problem with this game – there's just not much to it.
The game mechanics are simple. You mostly walk to the right, shoot enemies, and collect power-ups from the disappearing corpses. You can crouch and jump three times your own height (who knew everyone on board the Enterprise was a skilled high jumper). The power-ups you collect range from federation badges for health, bombs, phaser energy packs that don't seem to actually do anything, speed increasers, and invulnerability.
The game loosely follows the plot of the movie – Spock's brother Sybok figures out he knows where God is. (It's interesting to note here that the game actually mentions that Sybok is only a former classmate at the "Valcan School of Thought." [left] This is from an early draft of the script and was changed in later drafts.) He kidnaps dignitaries from the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan empires in order to snare a starship to take him there, since taxi fare in the future is a real bitch.
This is where the game begins. As Sulu, you are tasked with rescuing the hostages from the outpost - Paradise City. This involves some fairly straightforward side scrolling action. You continue ever on to the right until you reach the end, battling never-ending hordes of cultists in robes. The enemies widely vary from brown robes, to white robes, to brown robes on horses. Bosses can only be picked out by the fact that they take a butt load of shots to kill, and jump around like a hyperactive rabbit on methamphetamines. There's also the odd photon mortar here and there.
This first part has little challenge, and graphically, it's about as interesting as a history lesson on cheese. If you die, you are simply beamed back aboard the Enterprise where Doctor McCoy replenishes your "physical energy" (one can only assume this has something to do with Shiatsu massage) and are beamed back to try again, although you have to start over from the beginning of the level.
The second part of the game switches your point of view to Scotty (inexplicably called "Scotto" here – maybe that's Scotty's "home boy name") onboard the Enterprise. Sybok's trap is sprung and "Scotto" must free Kirk Spock, and McCoy. You have to explore the hallways around the central turbo lift shaft and find the door behind which they are held. There are other doors, which mostly contain phaser turrets, or a cultist in a green robe. There's one door that gives you a pair of anti-grav boots, but these are of limited duration and are ironically worse than actually jumping. Speaking of which, it's actually kind of funny to picture obese old "Scotto" jumping lithely from deck to deck. Maybe Kirk has a stash of Twinkies inspiring him on.
The challenge on this level is entirely in the obscure way you have to open the door. The one door you have to open to complete the level is different from the others in that it's down a red corridor, rather than a blue one. When you get to it, it's not obvious what to do to open it. Sadly, this is the greatest challenge in the game. You may figure out that there are no keys, and that you'd probably have to use bombs. The problem is that it doesn't take one, or two, or even three. It takes SIX bombs to open. To be honest, if you are a normal person, you'll give up after two or three and figure you have to do something else.
What's also funny is that if you die during this stage, you are beamed up to the Enterprise, and Doctor McCoy fixes you up before sending you out again. Wait … what? Aren't you already on the Enterprise? And aren't you trying to free Doctor McCoy? Ah well.
The third stage exchanges the side scrolling game play for a space sim ala Star Raiders. You have to first penetrate the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy to reach the creation planet (Called Sha Ka Ri in the final script after who was first asked to play Sybok – Sir Sean Connery). However, the Great Barrier appears to consist completely of great globs of bleu cheese. Or perhaps Smurf vomit. It's hard to tell exactly. You have to fly around and shoot the great gobs of blue lint in order to proceed. Every two blobs shot, removes a red dot from your sensors, so you have to shoot about 24 of them to proceed. You are then treated to a second round of the same thing.
You have two weapons at your disposal, phasers which are unlimited, and photon torpedoes, of which you have ten. You also have enough power for three busts of the shields which makes you invulnerable for five seconds.
This level is more annoying than hard. The blue things come at you pretty fast, and until you learn the pattern, by the time you've shot one, another is hitting the Enterprise. The ship can only take about five hits before it is destroyed and you have to start over. Who knew bleu cheese was so deadly?
At the end of this level, you have to face off against the Klingon ship which shoots a continuous stream of green cotton balls at you. Again, destroying the Klingons is more irritating than challenging. However, this mode of the game is actually quite effective, and if spruced up a little would have been pretty fun. The feeling of flying through space was well done despite being a NES cartridge.
At last we come to the final stage of the game – the confrontation between God and Kirk. This stage returns to the side-scroller game play. The planet surface is a little more interesting this time, but there is even less challenge, although you do have to navigate though some areas involving jumping. It's not completely clear the order in which to do these jumping areas, so the challenge isn't in the game play, it's in trying to figure out the pattern. The enemies, excitingly enough, consist entirely of rocks. Lots of rocks. Hooray. Also, the level ends in a huge climactic battle between Kirk and a poison warning label. I guess Bandai thought it made some kind of sense that God is a huge flaming skull.
At the end of the game, after you defeat the evil skull, are we treated to an impressive cinematic? Are we treated with fanfare? No. We get to see a stunning montage of pictures of the Enterprises' bridge crew with a snippet from the beginning of the game.
One gets the impression from playing that the game was either rushed or incomplete. Many of the enemies drop items that are nearly useless. The bombs are only used in one spot in level two, and the phaser energy seemingly has no purpose. Further, the game is rather short, even for an NES game, once you figure out what you need to do. Add to all that, the lack of any kind of ending, and one can imagine why this game was canceled.
It's certainly no tragedy that this was never released. As a game, it's quite lackluster, but in a strange way it is a fitting companion piece to an equally bad movie. This game can safely be entered into the annals of Trek history under what could have been, along with the early scripts for Star Trek V, without any wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth from Star Trek fans.