These days I am not one for multiplayer in most forms. While the majority of the gaming population moves from one multiplayer shooter to the next or enjoys coop gameplay I could care less. It is ironic for a number of reasons. I still actively play World of Warcraft, the biggest MMO in the world. I also spent the majority of my childhood playing coop and competitive games. From Contra to Tecmo Bowl, I was there. Heavy Barrel is a title I didn’t think much of at first but came to enjoy after giving it a chance. There weren’t too many overhead shooters for the NES and this is a solid entry.
Terrorists have seized a nuclear missile control site, leaving it up to the player and a buddy to infiltrate and kill their leader. This is 80’s video game storytelling at its finest. Heavy Barrel was the first in an unrelated trilogy of top down military shooters from Data East. It would be followed up by Bloody Wolf and the excellent Thunder Zone which sadly never left the arcade. The NES version of Heavy Barrel makes a few changes but still captures what made the game great and is especially awesome with a friend.
Heavy Barrel handles its armaments differently than most. All items are locked away in numerous boxes opened with keys. Only red soldiers carry keys and while it sounds limiting in practice you will almost always have at least one. There are more boxes than keys and you won’t know what’s inside beforehand so it’s a crap shoot what you’ll get. But generally its always something good.
Those expecting a suite of different weapons will come away disappointed. There are only a few alternate choices but everyone is effective. The fire releases a short range but large burst of flame. The spread gun is self-explanatory. The laser is missing from this version although it isn’t really missed. There is no shield but the spiked ball rotates around your character briefly and functions the same way. The grenades can be hard to aim but there impact radius is larger in this version, making them more effective.
The Heavy Barrel in the title lives up to its name. This experimental laser cannon is the 2d equivalent of Doom’s BFG, decimating everything in its path. The massive blast covers a good chunk of the screen and kills almost everything in one shot, even most bosses. For the thirty seconds it lasts you are practically god. But you need to assemble it first. There are enough pieces scattered throughout the game to use the Heavy Barrel at least three times. As broken as it is alone two players armed with this bad boy can clear the screen faster than the game can keep up!
The home version of Heavy Barrel is slower paced than its arcade cousin. The screen scrolls very slowly and your movement isn’t as brisk. A concession was made because of the NES controller; you can no longer aim independently while moving. Your fire is locked to the current facing direction. While limiting it is a wise choice. Anyone who suffered through Ikari Warriors 2 will remember the nightmare of your character slowly pivoting around while being assaulted by fast moving enemies. Having played far too much of that game for my own good I prefer this method by far.
Overall while the pace is different the game is still intense. I actually found the game leans a bit on the easy side for a few reasons. There are significantly less enemies than in the arcade although there is still some heavy sprite flickering. Although you need keys to find weapons rarely will you ever have to rely on the default machine gun. Once you’ve assembled the Heavy Barrel it makes the already short levels fly by even quicker. I had no trouble completing this in one sitting back in the day and it still applies now. It’s a nice change from the ball busting difficulty the genre usually applies but the game could have used some teeth.
Aside from that I still enjoyed Heavy Barrel tremendously. It is a solid top down shooter of which the system did not have many. I would recommend Guerilla War first but Heavy Barrel makes for a good second choice pick.