Have you ever purchased a game completely on a whim? You are looking for something different to play, then see something that looks interesting. You figure what’s the worst that can happen, and buy it. I’ve done this on many occasions and had incredibly mixed results. However, every now and then
the stars align and it turns out the game you purchased was actually a masterpiece that quickly became one of your favorite games. I had this happen years ago when I discovered Shatterhand, and it’s one of the smartest things I’ve done in all of my years collecting.
Shatterhand is an action platformer released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was developed by Natsume and published by Jaleco in December of 1991. Originally, it was released a few months earlier in Japan on the Famicom, under the name Super Rescue Solbrain. The interesting thing to note is that Super Rescue Solbrain is a Japanese superhero cop show. The game was always developed as Shatterhand, but they added the license to the Japanese release. The games remain similar, with the most notable changes being different character sprites and one of the areas was completely redone.
Anyone familiar with Natsume’s work knows that anything bearing the name is usually incredibly high quality, and Shatterhand is no exception. To start, the gameplay is fantastic. It’s a standard action platformer that adds a few different touches to really set it apart. One of my favorite aspects of Shatterhand is that your attack is to simply punch everything. You battle robots and soldiers who are all using weapons, and all you do is punch your way through them. You can even punch enemy bullets out of the air, which let’s be honest, is freaking awesome. Throughout the levels there are boxes that contain money, traps, or blocks labeled A or B. When you collect 3 letters, a robot familiar will appear to add some attack power. This is one of the coolest aspects of the game since the robot your get depends on the combination of letters you collected. There are 8 different familiars with attacks ranging from swords to grenades to a flamethrower. If you collect a second set of the same letters while using a familiar, they will transform into a super suit making you invincible for 15 seconds. If you take damage while wearing the suit, time is lost instead of health. Shatterhand is a challenging game, so this is fairly necessary to make quick work of the boss battles.
In my opinion, the crowning achievement of this game is its difficulty curve. A lot of games that are known as NES hard are either hard from the start and just get harder, or have a sporadic difficulty that ends with you being stuck on one random part for eternity (looking at you Battletoads and the turbo tunnel). Shatterhand is one of the few NES games I’ve played that has a steady difficulty curve that helps ease new players into it. The first few levels are a breeze, but making through the last few areas really solidifies who has what it takes. It’s a very impressive thing to look at and admire. It also does a phenomenal job of keeping you on your toes with new level design. You have the classics of the ice level, underwater level, and fire level, but these basic templates really allowed the developers to put a unique spin on how to play through these levels. One of the best areas in the game is a reverse gravity section that is heavily reminiscent of Metal Storm. Though the game is a standard action platformer they really put in a lot of effort to make it feel unique.
One thing Shatterhand definitely isn’t lacking is graphics and music. I love the games art design of an industrial, war-torn city. There are lots of steel pipes everywhere, with loads of fences that you can jump and grab on to. The character sprites have detailed movement and look fantastic, plus the color palate is both colorful and dark at the same time. One of my favorite shots from pretty much any NES game is this game’s stage select screen. The way your character poses in front of the different areas looks so unbelievably awesome it’s a little hard describe. The music matches this perfectly with a steady beat constantly pushing you forward. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite old school soundtrack, but it is definitely worth a listen.
All in all, Shatterhand is an absolutely amazing game that really needs to be experienced by more people. Its stellar gameplay and perfect difficulty curve make it a unique challenge on the NES while adding enough unique elements to separate it in a genre that was in abundance at the time. And of course the music and graphics are a feast for the eyes and ears you’ll want to show others. Honestly, the only complaint I have is the usage of a stage select screen. Though it may be awesome to look at, there is no purpose for it and it actually screws with the player since the stages have varying difficulty and the order isn’t listed. Besides that, Shatterhand is the definition of a hidden gem and is worth checking out if you want to play a fun and challenging NES game you’ve probably never heard of. Sadly, the only way to play it besides emulation is on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it has been increasing in value. I would say it’s worth the $50, but try to see if you can find it for a good price. Whatever it takes, you should try your best to experience this game. It deserves that much.