Abadox is like an alternate reality version of Life Force created by another publisher. At times it is so similar I wonder how Natsume avoided criminal charges. That fact can’t be avoided. With that out of the way Abadox is also a great shooter in its own right. Once you look past its surface similarities to that great you’ll find a title that is more consistent with its theme and well-paced. Were it not for the crushing difficulty it would be a great shooter recommendation for the system.
The planet Abadox has become the latest meal for the planet devourer Parasitis. The Galactic Military try to fight it to no avail, with the only exception being a lone hospital ship. All hope rests on Lieutenant Nazal who is sent into the creature’s body to destroy it from the inside and rescue Princess Maria along the way.
The standard assortment of weapons are available and wouldn’t look out of place in Gradius: there’s a spread gun, three-way fire, a laser and a wide ring weapon like the Ripple. These are joined by homing missiles and shields. As Nazal you present a slightly larger target than in most shooters. However you can carry up to 4 shields at once although their level of protection is….questionable. Oddly enough an invincibility power-up shows up frequently and you’ll need it.
As much as I want to say that Abadox goes in its own direction you wouldn’t know it initially. This is as blatant a copy of Life Force as you can get as it has the same grinding teeth, arms protruding from walls and even a boss that is similar. The only difference being it has a full body rather than just a brain. It even has a similar structure, alternating between horizontal and vertical scrolling levels although these scroll downward. Abadox is more consistent in sticking to the biological theme and sells the idea better than Konami’s classic. There’s a very heavy focus on navigating tight corridors and obstacles which compliments the game’s slower pace. The power-up distribution is fairly generous although that doesn’t mean squat if you die.
Abadox is probably one of the hardest shooters on the NES. The single hit deaths come pretty frequently as the game can be a bit relentless with enemies, especially in its second half. This is probably about the closest the NES ever came to having a bullet hell shooter long before that term was coined. Barriers are generously dropped but they don’t help since it is easy to lose focus and fly into a wall. The shmup trope of being sent back to a checkpoint with no power-ups applies here and is especially cruel. If you die you might as well give up because it’s an insurmountable task to get back up to speed.
The game can be pretty brutal about its enemy placement and in my opinion unfair in many situations. Yet when you crash into an enemy or wall you know it is your fault. The need for spatial awareness is high but when you are fully powered-up and mowing through waves it’s incredibly fun. While I find it completely manageable I won’t deny that it can be incredibly frustrating and off putting.
Regardless of how derivative it is Abadox is one of the better looking games on the system. The biological theme is front and center early on. Flesh pulses, organs come to life, and everything is incredibly detailed to a shocking degree. The creature designs are both disgusting and creative and really sells the idea of this being a living organism. In the back half the theme switches to a mechanical setting since you are exploring a medical ship inside Parasitis. It should also be noted that there’s a fair amount of blood shown in the game. It’s amazing that this was not censored considering how Puritanical Nintendo were in the 80s. The little grey box is being pushed pretty hard as there is some heavy sprite flickering and slowdown but it doesn’t affect the game too much.
If the graphics and gameplay remind you of Life Force than the music and sound effects will drive that point home. That is because it was all the work of Kiyohara Sada, a former Konami employee who worked on many of their classic titles. The music is generally excellent, well composed if reminiscent of his prior work and in tune with the onscreen action. The most notable example of this would be stage 4, where the music drops to focus on a heart beating. It’s a well done moment and ranks really high on the creep factor.
For such a high quality game I am a bit surprised that Abadox has such a low profile. That cheesy box art certainly isn’t helping I’m sure. Personally I think this is one of the better shooters for the system. Iif you like any of Konami’s output in the genre will find plenty to love here.