Airwolf was a 1980’s television series that inspired a licensed video game developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Acclaim and released in 1989. Following the mission-oriented adventures of Hawke and his Airwolf military helicopter, the protagonist must undergo several missions in order to defeat the FIRM.
You follow a series of missions, each of them usually consisting of rescuing hostages or destroying enemy fighters. Before each stage, a map is shown, marking locations where you can land the Airwolf craft, including where to land for fuel and where to pick up hostages. It also shows the likely location of enemy aircraft as well.
During the mission, you fly about in a rough first-person flight-simulation mode, with the horizon awkwardly lilting back and forth in jerky angles for every adjustment. You can shoot opposing units while tracking your location on the panel display, which also shows the location of the hostages, fuel, etc. When you approach one of these target sites, it switches to a side-view landing screen, where you must carefully guide the Airwolf copter between obstructive structures and softly land without crashing and burning. Doing so at a fuel station reloads your fuel, obviously, whereas landing at the sight of a hostage shows the thankful person boarding your Airwolf vehicle. Once you rescue the hostages, you exit the area and the mission is completed. Occasionally you destroy airfields. You can shoot incoming missiles and get credit for doing so at the end of a mission. Otherwise, that is pretty much it.
The gameplay, it must be noted, is notoriously repetitive and boring. It is playable, but the bland looks coupled with uninventive missions (put it this way: you rescue a lot of hostages) does not help to enhance any sort of appeal or replay value.
Seeming to focus on connecting with the source material of the television show, the game features enormous close-up shots of characters and features (the Airwolf crest must been seen to be believed, and the pocketknife beside the glasses on the sheet of paper that missions get typed onto is a nice touch) between stages, emphasizing the looks of those details rather than the in-game graphics, which are rather crude. The weapon fire is generic geometric shapes, the enemy craft are ill-defined (though decent), and other than the needlessly complex-looking control panel, the entire background is separated into two colors: One for ground, the other for sky, and the colors change every level.
The Airwolf theme is present and intact, though likely unrecognized by most. The effects themselves are nondescript and average. Ho hum.
Some license games have some thought put into them (granted, sometimes too much), and some very little, and this seems to be a case of the latter. It is a simple flight simulator, but makes no effort to stretch beyond very basic mission-based dogfight land-the-craft gameplay.
Lots of license games for various pop-culture sources were created for the NES, to varying results. Some were overwrought and made, perhaps, needlessly complicated (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cool World, etc.); others seemed to be more thoughtful and developed but a bit heavy on the challenge side (Die Hard, Fester’s Quest); while still others, among other categories, fell into the group that were sloppily made, lazily pushed to publication, and devoid of any interesting, redeeming qualities. Welcome to your homeland Airwolf, where you languish with a rating of one and a half stars out of five.
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.