Karnov (NES) Review

The Short


– Action game starting badass Russian fireball breathing crazy circus guy KARNOV

– Fight dinosaurs, monsters, eye…things, fish and…yeah, it’s pretty awesome

– Feels kind of like Contra. If it starred a fat/buff Russian dude

– Music is decent

– Use power-ups such as ladders and wings to find secrets

– While it may not look like much, Karnov is a lot of fun

– Infinite continues


– Controls can be a bit stiff, especially falling

– Levels and game are a bit short

– You use powerups to…get more powerups? Alright.

– Two hits and you’re dead

– Dying loses all your attack powerups, which makes the game WAY tougher

– Game looks pretty ugly

Karnov: Dinosaur Hunter

The Long

I only recently heard about Karnov, but after watching some gameplay videos I knew I had to have it. I mean, seriously…what other game lets you play a portly Russian firebreathing circus/angel(?) who was sent by God to rid the world of a demon? I think that’s the story, anyway.

Karnov was apparently a character in a fighting game, Fighter’s History, on the NeoGeo and was so popular (?) he starred in the sequel, Karnov’s Revenge. Fighter’s History was pretty much a blatant Street Fighter II knockoff, so it’s really interesting to see that Karnov actually made his start in this game, originally in arcades and then an NES sequel. Yeah, he just sort of came out of nowhere and into existence in this game. Alright.

Anyway, on with the point: the actual review. Is Karnov on the NES worth considering? Or is it an ugly piece of crap? Well…a bit of both, but I still really like the game regardless.

Karnov scoffs at your pitiful boulders.

Karnov is essentially an action platformer with minimal jumping and maximum shooting. That’s right: rather than use all those muscles (and his fighting game pedigree) to punch stuff, Karnov blasts fireballs from…I don’t know, actually. I think he breathes fire in the game? We’ll go with that.

The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up the game is the awesome intro: Karnov always starts and exits a level by TRANSFORMING INTO LIGHTNING and teleporting on/off screen. A Russian circus angel who transforms into lightning and shoots fireballs? This might be the best thing ever.

The next thing you’ll notice is the controls are…sticky. Karnov reacts like you’d expect a large Russian guy to: a bit stiff and a bit clunky.You can somewhat manipulate his jumps mid-flight, but falling from a ledge Karnov just drops straight down, no control at all. It’s a little bizarre. The jumping is also a bit floaty, but when Karnov is on the ground he controls with precision. I guess that just says to keep his fat ass on the ground.

Karnov has survived the fiercest Russian winters. He cares not for this ice cave.

The ultimate goal is to blast your fireballs and murder everything. Unlike Contra, Karnov can’t walk and shoot, so holding a turbo button won’t help you. Along the way you get two sets of powerups: more fireballs which give you a double or triple attack (which is necessary on later stages) and expendable items such as bombs, ladders, and more. What’s weird is most of these items (ladders especially) are really just used to get more items, which…um, sure. I’ll use a ladder to get three more bombs, which I then won’t use anyway. Cool.

You do get other powerups, like flight (which gives Karnov wings and might be the funnest thing I’ve seen on the NES in a while) and a useless boomerang and others. I commend Data East for trying, but really this stuff isn’t all that necessary. If you have the triple shot, you’ll slaughter everything. Taste the might of Mother Russia! 

You also pick up random “K”s in boxes, which I guess are this game’s coins. Because that doesn’t look out of place at all.

Don’t pick up three “K”s, Karnov. Trust me on that one.

Despite all these complaints, it still boils down to one important thing: Karnov is still a lot of fun. Yes, the game is just blasting through tons of enemies and trying to outsmart the stiff jumping controls. Yes, you only have two hits and dying makes you go down to one fireball (which sucks, let me tell you). And, yes, this game is ugly and the music is just “good,” but I still really had fun with Karnov. I actually kept pushing through it again and again until I actually beat it (the day after I bought it, no less), and the final boss is pretty crazy so I’m glad I did.

Plus, one of the bosses is a freaking dinosaur. That’s pretty great.

It’s worth noting that, if the difficulty weren’t factored into the equation, Karnov isn’t a very long game. Data East tends to have really short stages in their games (what I’ve noticed, anyway) and Karnov is no exception. You have nine sages in total and four bosses, and considering this game is pretty tough it’ll take you a while, but it really boils down to memorizing enemy placement and being able to dodge small projectiles. Karnov just ruins everything with the triple shot (so satisfying), so the game becomes a goal to not die when you are powered up, and when you do you just want to quit and start over.

The first boss employs the traditional “Shoot, then jump” tactic found in most Mega Man games.

Graphically, Karnov is nothing to write home about. I love Karnov’s sprite, but the world he inhabits is boring. My first cheap death happened when I didn’t realize something was insta-death water (Karnov can’t swim?) and I walked right down a hole. Awesome. Thanks for making your graphics so awful I got cheap-shotted out of it. The final boss looks pretty cool, but the rest of the game…yeah.

Music is catchy but not memorable. However, I feel it enhances the experience, which is my base level requirement for video game music, so it passes. It isn’t Loopz (which I will keep referring to forever because the music was so bad). We’ll say that.

Karnov vs sick final skeleton boss.

As it stands, I heartily recommend Karnov, even with its sticky controls, short length, and hideous graphics. Despite all this, the game is a lot of fun, and considering you can usually find it for around $3 (if you can find it) it’s absolutely worth it at that price.

Plus, what other game lets you play as a badass Russian who throws fireballs at a T-Rex until it dies? NO GAME IN EXISTANCE EXCEPT KARNOV, that’s which game!

Three out of five stars. 




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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