Athena Review

Developer: SNK Publisher: SNK
Release Date: 1987 Also On:
Arcade, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum

Holy sweet mother of god. It is rare that one comes across a game this bad. Sometimes, games are bad but yet entertaining in their own, sucky way. This, however, is a perfect example of a title that isn’t even fun to laugh over. It’s just plain horrid. Everything is so poorly put together it boggles the mind. Athena deserves its spot as one of the most notoriously terrible games in NES and video game history.

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The graphics in Athena, in terms of the variety of colors and character details, are actually not half bad. For the most part, it’s quite clear what you’re looking at. However, where Athena really pulls out the stank is in the application of said graphics. This game is filled with glitches, flicker, and slowdown. We’re talking unlicensed caliber here. In addition, some of the animations are so horrible it almost feels unfinished. Bosses with arms flailing in a really muddled fashion, a bizarre step-and-attack movement for Athena herself, skipping, glitching, twitching enemies running all over the place slowing the game down to a snail’s pace, Athena has it all. Any graphical mistakes that could possibly be made in an 8-Bit game were gathered, thrown into a programmed heap, and then set forth on the market to slay millions.

The sound in Athena feels almost as glitchy as the graphics at times, but it is, however, probably the strogest area of this game. The main theme is pretty close to the original and does its job well. The boss music fits the action (what’s left of it, anyway). There aren’t many sound effects, however, and some of them are questionable. Athena’s stiking sound is novel, a really distinct effect. Other than this, however, there are a lot of ill-placed and weird sounds throughout this title. A weird whistling sound when you hit certain enemies and a tweeting sort-of thing when you’re hitting bosses (or think you are at least). Athena really throws some sounds at you that seem just as glitchy as the graphics. Not sure how they pulled that off, but they did.

So what about the gameplay? Well, Athena is quite old, but for its time it was something of a novel platformer. It has the basic platforming attributes, however. Collect items, attack enemies, fight bosses, etc. However, it does have some features that are cool at least in theory. Athena goes through a variety of themed worlds, sometimes changing shape to fit the environment. In the World of Sea, for example, you can get an icon that changes you into a fish for quicker movement. In the World of Sky, a set of wings so you can fly. It also has a few puzzle-like stages where you have to find the correct path to the boss. The bosses tend to be pretty big and some present quite a challenge, but Athena has a number of different weapons to pick up to use throughout the game. With that sort of write-up you’d think it was pretty good, wouldn’t you? That’s why I stressed the theory of it, check it out for yourself before I give my two bits:

Wow, what in the hell, seriously? Athena really sinks low in the gameplay department. As I said, in theory, kind of cool, but in actual presentation, holy hell. First off, the graphics are so glitchy that they affect the gameplay to the extreme. Numerous enemies slow down the action, appear right in front of you, killing you with a few hits, bullets slow down, then disappear because too many things are on screen, bosses sometimes die without hitting them, you name it, it’s here. Second, the weapon system is varied but a real pain in the ass. After you collect more powerful weapons or ones you need to find hidden locations, you certainly don’t want to pick up weaker items. That would be easy, if you didn’t have a million new ones dropped in front of you after almost every freaking single enemy you kill, even the damn bosses. You spend more time jumping over these obstructions than you do actually hitting anything. Third, in addition to this, sometimes you need a certain weapon to kill a boss, but you won’t know until you pick and try pretty much all of them. I must have spent a good hour hitting the tail of this one boss until I realized I needed to get another stinking weapon to do anything to him. Fourth, sometimes you can’t tell if you’re actually hitting anything. On most of the bosses, there is no clear indication of a sweet spot. You only get this weird, tweeting sound to let you know you hit something, but even then you get this same sound for other things, like their projectiles, so you basically just sit, attacl, and hope the damn things die eventually. Sometimes this is really easy because all the way on the edge of the screen the boss shots won’t damage you, even though they’re landing directly on you. Add to this trial-and-error maze-like levels, random enemy attacks that take off all of your life in a handful of blows, and you have a really, really bad game. I could write a book on this one. Athena, thy name be Hecate it will be titled.

As for creativity, when it comes down to it, Athena, theoretically speaking, does have a number of new and interesting features. They’re just not utilized or programmed well. The different world shtick is pretty cool, as is the variety of weapons and power-ups. If only you could manage to play the damn thing properly it might make a difference!

I cringe to think I still have this game sitting in my collection. Athena has no replay value at all unless you really want to beat it. Even when you do they give you this god awful shot of her just standing there with the main track playing. It looks and sounds so bad you’d swear the game froze or something, but no, it’s actually the ending. It’s not too long, however. Once you get used to the incredible amount of glitches in it and learn to play among them, you’ve only got an hour or so of this hell to go through. That doesn’t make it any better, however.

Athena is by far one of the worst games for the NES. It’s amazing how many qualities of this game are well below even the likes of a game like Action 52. This is just all-around terrible. There is nothing here that will interest anyone. It’s a cool idea with some cool features that went horribly wrong in the programming of said features. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many mistakes and poorly programmed oddities in any licensed game, ever. Stay away.

Graphics: 3.5
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 4.5
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 4
Written by Stan Review Guide

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