Journey to Silius

Journey to Silius is an interesting game.  This unassuming little title is an excellent hidden gem in the NES library from the masters at Sunsoft.  But what makes it so fascinating is its development history.  Journey to Silius was originally going to be a licensed Terminator game before negotiations fell apart.  Considering how dreadful the actual Akklaim titles were we missed out.  This wouldn’t be the only time this would happen to Sunsoft; their cancelled Sunman game was supposed to be a Superman title.  Absent a license Sunsoft instead created an original IP and one of the better run and gun action games for the system.

In the future the Earth is facing overpopulation, leading to the creation of space colonies.  Jay McCray is the son of a scientist responsible for construction of Colony #428.  People leave the planet en masse however not all of them have the best intentions.  The colony is blown up by terrorists, with the death toll including Jay’s father.  Finding a floppy disc containing his father’s plans Jay leaves on a mission of revenge.

Although they’ve tried their best if you look closely you can still see traces of the Terminator license in the game.  The mechanical enemies and set pieces resemble many parts of Terminator but are different enough that Sunsoft didn’t get sued.  Considering the dreadful Terminator games released by Mindscape and LJN it’s a shame Sunsoft didn’t keep the license.  Journey to Silius would have gone a long way towards redeeming the terrible reputation licensed games had on the system.

Every great action game has a healthy set of weapons and Journey to Silius is no different.  The difference here is you earn them one by one after every level.  It’s almost Mega Manish minus that game’s system of strengths and weaknesses.  The machine gun, grenade launcher, homing missiles, laser, and three way shotgun all function the same as in other games.  However they all use the same gun meter, limiting their use.  Managing your gun meter gives the game a unique flavor that I’m sure those accustomed to Contra will have to adjust to. 

Although it has the same action as a Contra the game’s pacing is different.  Running in guns blazing will end in death regardless of your life bar.  Journey to Silius is not designed that way.  In between the deliberate enemy placement are a number of mechanical traps that become more elaborate as the game progresses.  They become denser as you advance and I would even say the game shifts to platforming over action by the midpoint.  Although the game is only comprised of five levels it still has its fair share of action, just not to the extent it initially appears.

Like most of Sunsoft’s works Journey to Silius looks fantastic.  The color palette isn’t as varied as most games but this is a dystopian future which makes the cold metal greys and blue work.  The limited color palette is actually used to great effect; most are a single color but use different shades for a stylized look.  Every environment is flush with detail and the Terminator “Inspired” enemies all look great.  Because most enemies are so large you will rarely see more than 2 at once but it makes little difference.  All of the bosses are massive screen filling monstrosities that weren’t common on the platform. 

As great as the graphics are the music is even better.  Naoki Kodaka was no stranger to the NES hardware having composed many classic soundtracks in Sunsoft’s games.  But this might be his best work.  The music strike the perfect chord between dramatic and action movie drama.  There’s a nice bassline to every track which was uncommon for NES music, which shows how much he thought outside of the box.  This is one of the strongest scores on the NES which was surprising as I had no expectations going in.

The difficulty is a bit deceptive.  At first Journey to Silius can seem incredibly tough.  You only have three lives and no way to earn any extras.  Death at any point tosses you back to the start of the level outside of bosses which is rough.  Taking your time and allowing enemies to spawn one at a time goes a long way.  Also observing the various traps and knowing when to stop and wait helps.  Despite special weapons using ammo the game is fairly generous with it encouraging their use.  Even though all of the bosses are huge they have incredibly simple patterns and can be destroyed without taking damage. 

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments.  The game is incredibly stingy with life restoring items; I probably saw four in total during the entire game.  The later levels are incredibly long which makes the lack of checkpoints brutal.  Despite its short length it will take a few tries to see this to its conclusion.

Journey to Silius is a great game and an underappreciated part of Sunsoft’s catalog.  Run and gun action games were not plentiful on the NES with this being one of its better titles.  Top notch production values and solid gameplay mean this should be part of everyone’s 8-bit library.

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