When you come across poop in life, you typically smell it before you actually see it. Maybe your cat decided to push one out somewhere in the room you’re lounging in. Or perhaps you trekked through some on the way home without realizing. Whatever the situation, you can usually tell there’s poop around simply because it smells awful. If only this same principle worked when trying to feel out the quality of a videogame just by ogling its box art. Maybe then, back so many years ago, I wouldn’t have pointed at Heavy Nova when my mother asked me what game I wanted for my birthday. Maybe then I would have pointed at Ristar or Earthworm Jim 2 instead, saving myself from being able to make the dubious claim that, yes, at one time in my life I have actually received shit for my birthday.
And how could I not have been fooled? With a cool name like Heavy Nova, awesome box art featuring a bad ass looking cyborg, and a rear-cover screenshot that seemed to feature Street Fighter-esque one-on-one fighting, I was certain this was the epic Genesis game that would make my collection complete. In retrospect, my first hint that Heavy Nova was not the Holy Grail of Genesis titles should have became clear the moment I glanced at the developer’s logo stamped on the lower left hand corner of the box. Micronet co., Ltd. Not Capcom. Not Konami. Not even Data East. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the grizzled gaming veteran that I am today, so any possible repercussions of purchasing a Micronet developed game were completely lost on me. C’est la vie, right?
Amazingly Exciting! Emblazoned across the back of Heavy Nova’s box in large pink print, these words fueled my excitement as I got home and snapped the cartridge into my Genesis console. Then, the game’s intro cinematic flashed on screen, and boy was it amazing! Awesome music, crisp graphics, big robots… all it needed were a few ninjas, pirates and midgets and it would’ve been the best intro movie ever created. Needless to say, I was on cloud nine and absolutely ecstatic with my birthday gift. Then the game dropped me off at the beginning of Mission 1 and everything went to … well … shit.
Let me be blunt – Heavy Nova is an awful game. It’s so awful, in fact, that I’ve come to the part of the review where I’m supposed to describe its awfulness and I’m at a loss as to where to start. I suppose the level design is as good a place as any. Each mission in the game is structured the same – you must first maneuver your robot through an “action” section before moving onto a one-on-one boss battle with another robot. These action segments usually consist of you walking your robot from left to right and occasionally jumping over one of a handful of obstacles (such as “Amazingly Exciting!” stationary boulders that, similar to real life boulders, cause damage when you stroll by them). There are also a few minor enemies (in the form of tiny hopping mechs or the like) to deal with, but a simple kick (one of a whopping two attacks you can perform in these action sections) from your robot is enough to take them out.
Along with excruciatingly simple level design, Heavy Nova also features the most sluggish and unintuitive on-screen character movement that I’ve ever experienced in a 2D game. For example, if you tap right on the directional pad, your robot won’t move a fraction of a step forward like you might expect, but will take a massive lumbering step – more often then not directly into one of the level’s environmental hazards. You do have the ability to boost up off the ground for a limited time (maybe two seconds), but this is crippled by Micronet’s abysmal physics based flight controls. You see, as soon as your robot leaves the ground and you activate either fore or aft thrusters, the combined finicky quality of these boosters and bloated feel of your robot make performing any kind of precise landings virtually impossible. Thus, a handful of stationary boulders and other boring hazards suddenly become major obstacles and you are left to ponder how such a broken control scheme made it past testing.
After saying, “screw it!” and boosting blindly through the action segment (and realizing that by doing this you can make it through in a fraction of the time and with marginal health loss), you get to the one-on-one fighting portion. This is where the real shit hits the fan. Think of those fun 16-bit fighters like Street Fighter II, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat II. Heavy Nova is just like them … only without the cool character design, varied move sets or the ability to actually control your on-screen pugilist in any coherent or effective way. A simple action like turning around to face your opponent is an effort in frustration, as your robotic brawler will often just walk backwards instead of preforming the agonizingly slow “about face” animation. On top of that, all ten or so of the game’s attacks are mapped to two buttons, making the moves you pull off completely random. Sometimes getting in close to your enemy and tapping the A button three times results in three jabs. Sometimes it’s two jabs and an uppercut. And sometimes your robot just says “*$%& it” and pile drives the opposing mech’s head into the concrete.
I consider myself a fairly forgiving game reviewer. I am the one, after all, who gave the Xbox version of Serious Sam a “nine” several years back. I like to give developers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what they were trying accomplish when designing a piece of videogame software. More often that not, even with the crappiest of games, if you dig deep enough you can find a few pearls of enjoyment. These pearls do not exist in Heavy Nova. Trust me – I’ve looked. I looked for weeks back in my youth, desperately trying validate my birthday gift, and I’ve looked again more recently as I brushed up for this review. With Heavy Nova, no matter how deep you dig, all there is is shit.