8 Eyes (NES) Review

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The Short

Pros

  • Kind of a mix between Castlevania and Battle for Olympus 
  • Graphics look good
  • Tons of decent music
  • Has a unique two-player mode
  • Box art looks kind of like Shining Force, which is cool

Cons

  • Levels don’t seem to have any real design going for them
  • Controlling the bird in single player is a frustration
  • Scratch that; almost all control (particularly combat) is obnoxious
  • Difficulty is through the roof
  • Unless you play the game in a very specific order, bosses are unkillable
A grammatical error on your title screen? We're off to a good start.

A grammatical error on your title screen? We’re off to a good start.

 

The Long

Developed by Thinking Rabbit (who made nothing else of note) and published by Texan (who also published Low G Man), 8 Eyes (or 8 Eye’s if I’m to believe the title screen) is an excellent example of a homage game gone wrong. I’ve yammered incessantly about Castlevania on this site, though I haven’t really gotten into games that attempted to emulate its style. On the Master System we had Master of Darknesswhich ripped the formula off pretty well. But with 8 Eyes…I unfortunately can’t say the same.

There's seven stages you can choose, but that choice is actually an illusion

There’s seven stages you can choose, but that choice is actually an illusion

8 Eyes’ simple premise is as basic as it comes: gather eight gems from various parts of the world and beat the final boss in the House of Ruth. Not a big surprise here; it’s a NES game, they don’t really do “plots.” It starts out popping you into the stage select screen you see above, giving you the illusion of choice. This, right off the bat, is the first major misstep 8 Eyes falls into: Bosses for each stage can only be beaten by the power-up given by defeating another boss…and each boss (except Spain) has only one weakness. Meaning if you don’t play the game in the exact right order, you’ll have run a whole stage for essentially nothing. Dark Souls got nothin’ on this.

The stages themselves are interesting as they’re a weird hodge-podge of Castlevania styling meets a more open-ended platformer like Battle for Olympus (or, to pick a less obscure NES game, Duck Tales). Like…this game really wants to be Castlevania. This game looks a lot like Castlevania 2, even from the get go. Dark, with thick black outlines on everything, and every level starting with you opening a door and walking in it (much like Simon walking into the castle at the beginning ofCastlevania). The stairs? Straight outta Castlevania. Sub-weapons? That’s a Castlevania joint. I swear the axe knights are even ripped wholesale.

Also...Jawas?

Also…Jawas?

It controls similarly as well, with a sort of plodding chunkiness and difficulty climbing stairs that I both appreciate and abhor. But while I felt this was tolerable in Castlevania as the game seems balanced around these gameplay foibles, in 8 Eyes it felt they were included just for the sake of emulating a better game. Because when it comes to enemy placement, level layout, and just about everything else pertaining to gameplay, 8 Eyes just frustrates.

For starters, your weapon (a sword) is extremely short. Shorter, in fact, than any armed enemy’s weapons, meaning you’ll almost always get hit when attempting to trade blows with a foe. At least Castlevania had the decency to make up for your lack of mobility by giving you a long-reaching weapon. Here, every enemy with a weapon in a war of attrition. At least the birds can’t fight back. And you know something is wrong when I’m yearning for NES enemy birds in a video game.

All this would be tolerable if I felt the areas were fun to explore. And, for the most part, some are pretty decent. When I wasn’t being pummeled to death by endlessly respawning enemies (some respawning right next to you the minute they’re killed), you spend a good chunk of time exploring the area. Each fortress/house/mansion/whatever cycles vertically (with end points horizontally), meaning you’re restricted to a handful of screens. The trick is finding the necessary switches and secrets that open up doors to proceed to the next areas. Honestly, this isn’t that bad of an idea (it kind of reminds me of Ghost House on the Master System), but trying to explore with slow-ass Castlevania controls and unfair enemies drains you pretty quick. And I don’t mean just your health. I mean you, as a player, are drained. Because it’s rough, man.

Those stairs we know and "love"

Those stairs we know and “love”

8 Eyes also has sub-weapons akin to Castlevania, though getting enough ammo to use them is tedious (and they seem to use way too much per shot). While in Castlevania they were meant to be use fairly liberally to overcome your lack of weapon mobility, here you can burn them all out in 2-3 shots. Oh, and some don’t do anything to certain enemies. How do you find out? By wasting your weapon on them to see, of course! Sad.

Insult to injury is power-ups dropped by enemies float up instead of down, meaning if you don’t grab them lickity-split they’ll float heavenward and disappear into the Aether. Hey, they’re crosses, so I guess that kind of makes sense (also props to 8 Eyes for somehow getting past Nintendo’s strict religious censors and sneaking crosses into the game). But it is obnoxious.

The only real unique thing is controlling Cutrus, Orin (our main dude’s)’s falcon. In single player, you press select to drive him around and attack enemies. He has his own health bar and if he dies it’s game over, so you have to be careful. In two-player mode, one person drives Cutrus (who I kept calling “Citris” for some reason) and the other Orin, which is actually a pretty cool implementation of co-op. I just wish it had been better implemented.

Here, listen to the whole soundtrack. Why not?

 

Graphically, I actually rather like 8 Eyes. It has a Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest vibe going for it, with dark backgrounds and equally dark-outlined sprites (Orin even wears red, akin to Simon in that game) and some interesting looking enemies. I like the variety in locations as well, with some being inside buildings and others starting you outside. In terms of variety and just general aesthetics, 8 Eyes isn’t bad at all.

The music is also decent, if totally unmemorable. Each area has a unique song, at least, which means there’s plenty of music to go around.

Picasso's Blue Period has nothing on this

Picasso’s Blue Period has nothing on this

8 Eyes is a lot like Simon’s Quest to me. It isn’t good, but it is hardly an unmitigated disaster. And while it’s easy to poke holes in it and complain about it, at its most basic level the game is functional and you can glean some fun from it. That isn’t to say it isn’t stupid hard (it is) and has unfair enemies (it does) and some really stupid design decisions (which is has in spades), but I also understand how some people really enjoy this game. Once you master the clunky range-issues your weapon has and figure out the solutions to the different areas, the game’s true intent starts to shine through a little bit. This could have been a classic game, combining exploration (like Metroid) with some Castlevania style platforming. It just doesn’t quite got the distance, and as such should probably be avoided unless one has nostalgia for it.

Two out of five stars. 

Sorry Orin. Your bird may be cool, but you're no Simon.

Sorry Orin. Your bird may be cool, but you’re no Simon.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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