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Airwolf Review Rewind

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On 06/05/2017 at 08:00 AM by Jamie Alston

Get to the choppa!

You’re better off just watching clips of the TV show on YouTube.

Airwolf is one my favorite ‘80s TV shows. Originally airing in 1984 to 1987, the premise centered around a high-tech military helicopter capable of reaching supersonic speeds. In addition to the entertaining action sequences and interesting plot, Airwolf is perhaps best known for having one the most distinctive theme songs of the ‘80s (intro clip included below). Naturally, it was only a matter of time before we would see a video game conversion. There was an arcade version by a company called Kyugo in 1987, but the home console release was only for the Famicom. The NES finally saw its own version of Airwolf when Beam Software developed it with Acclaim as the publisher in 1989- 2 years after the show’s final season. Needless to say, this version had a lot to live up to.

In parallel to several episodes from the TV show, the game puts you in the role of Stringfellow Hawke taking orders from the one-eyed Central Intelligence agent Archangel. Your primary mission is to rescue POWs stuck in various prison camps and destroy enemy planes. And that is where the similarities to the show end. What follows is a travesty that is little more than a lousy flight combat simulator with the name "Airwolf" crudely duck taped to it.

The game admirably tries to keep true to the TV show with short cutscenes of Airwolf taking off for flight in each mission. The game plays from the cockpit viewpoint with a map display showing you the location of POWs, refueling sites, and enemy headquarters. You have a limited amount of fuel, making the refueling sites essential to your success in later missions. When you reach a prison camp or refueling site, the viewpoint switches to a 2D side view, and you’ll have to land the plane safely without crashing into the radio towers or barrels. Landing the helicopter is surprisingly uncomplicated- a relief for anyone who has ever had to land the jet in Top Gun. Once all POWs are rescued, you can exit the stage by crossing any border on the map.

Your helicopter's armaments include heat-seeking missiles and a machine gun. Shooting down enemy planes with a missile is relatively painless unless there are multiple enemies on the screen at once. You can more or less only fire one missile at a time, which means that you have to wait for it to reach its target before using another. I’d occasionally be able to shoot another missile before the first one hit (or missed), but it was an iffy endeavor at best. Sometimes the game would let me do it, other times it would not. Meanwhile, your enemies are free to pelt you with their weapons. You can combat enemy fire only with the machine gun, which doesn't help you nearly as much as you'd expect. Missiles launched anywhere except dead in front of you are hard to shoot down because it’s always a struggle to get your crosshairs within the range of the incoming shot.


Similarly, dodging missiles altogether are nearly impossible because, in most cases, you can never move far enough in either direction to avoid getting hit. There’s absolutely no way to evade enemy fire, forcing you to either shoot down every missile fired at you or try your best to speed through each mission as best you can. And God help you should you enter into enemy HQ airspace and fail to destroy the communications towers. If that happens, they will increase their forces and constantly bombard you with swarming planes and even more missile fire. Unless you happen to have completed your mission and are near the border, you’re almost guaranteed to lose a life.

For me, one of the drawbacks of early flight sims like this one is that they don’t always feature inverted controls. In Airwolf, the vertical controls are literal, meaning that if you press up on the directional pad, the chopper will pitch upward, and vice-versa for the opposite direction. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can be bothersome for anyone accustomed to inverted controls. Unfortunately, things get even more awkward when you need to control your speed.

Since the A and B buttons are dedicated to your weapons, the controls for your speed are mapped to the Start and Select buttons to increase or decrease your velocity respectively. While it may not sound like a problem, in theory, it ends up feeling sloppy when trying to navigate the radar, avoid enemy bases, and pay attention to the action on the upper portion of the screen. It just becomes more of a distraction, and I often found myself overshooting the POW rescue targets and then having to circle back for what feels like an eternity before I can return to my goal, all the while worrying that I’ll get shot down in the process. 

Each level is devoid of any detailed scenery to give a convincing sense of movement (like when banking left or right for instance). You’re forced to rely solely on the radar map for a reference point of where you are in contrast to where you need to be. And whatever you do, do not accidentally cross the map border before rescuing all the prisoners. Not only will you be forced back into the battlefield, but your speed entirely reduces to a full stop. This occurrence poses a major problem for the player because you’ll instinctively assume that you’re still moving forward while repositioning yourself toward the direction you want to go. Unless you notice the “000” readout on your speedometer, you won’t realize that you’re merely spinning in a circle. This leaves you wide open to attack, and by the time you realize your mistake, it’s often too late.

The only real positive aspect of this game is that it plays a relatively good rendition of the Airwolf opening theme song during various cutscenes. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to make up for the otherwise bland audio presentation. The game features no other music whatsoever accompanied by generic gunfire and explosions that do nothing to enhance the experience of playing the game.

Much to my disappointment, this game has too many terrible design choices to be any good beyond the novelty of existing as a game based on a once-popular TV show. With its poor controls, heavy-handed enemy bombardments, and obtuse logic should you prematurely touch a map border, you’ll end up fighting with the gameplay elements more than the actual enemies in the game. Simply put, Beam Software’s take on Airwolf fails to recreate the sense of excitement and fun from the TV show. The game is more stressful than fun and isn’t worth the effort demanded of you.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/09/2017 at 10:35 PM

Ouch!  This game must really suck.  WHen I was a kid though, the show seemed SOOO cool.  And that theme!  

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/12/2017 at 12:39 AM

It's a shame because I really did want to like this game due to the source material it was based from. But it's really hard to turn a blind eye to its glaring problems. Oh well, at least we have the TV show.

Cary Woodham

06/14/2017 at 02:32 PM

I never got into that show.  The live action shows I was into as a kid were The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.  But they didn't have any games on the NES about those I don't think.  I did recently review the Knight Rider pack for LEGO Diimensions at

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