There was an era of Square (also known as Squaresoft, now known as Square Enix) in which the company was small, very unknown to most gamers, and had yet to dip their toe into the RPG pool with their critically acclaimed Final Fantasy series. It was the mid-to-late ’80s, and Square was basically experimenting with the different genres the NES had to offer. They had a scrolling shooter game in King’s Knight, a racing game in Rad Racer (arguably their most well known game before Final Fantasy was born), and many different types of titles that were only released in Japan for the Famicom. During this time, they released a rail shooter game to compete with Sega’s success in Space Harrier. That game came to be The 3-D Battles of World Runner.
You take on the role as Jack the Worldrunner. Your mission is to eliminate the serpent-like monsters, dubbed “Serpentbeasts”, that have been plaguing many planets in Solar System #517. It is your duty to destroy them once and for all, and return the solar system to an era of peace.
The game was actually quite advanced for the time it was released. It used a 3D-like scrolling environment to give the player the feeling they were actually running across the planet they were on. The player character would stay the same in size, as the ground, enemies, and obstacles would scroll past, starting off small in the background and getting larger as it came closer to the player themselves.
The gameplay is very simple: Move across the planet by leaping over chasms, avoiding monsters and obstacles, and try to get to the end of the level before time runs out. Your time is indicated by the little blocks in the center-bottom of the screen. Every time you pass through a level or lose a life, your time refills to full. Throughout the game are monsters and obstacles that will try to stop you, either by making you lose a life or disrupting your movement, making you waste precious time needed to advance. Each world has 4 levels, with the boss encountered at the end of the fourth level on each planet.
There is a small variety of items that the player can collect to help them on their quest. This game has a very unique way of obtaining items. You don’t open treasure chests or buy them. You don’t get them from destroying monsters. You don’t get them by finding them in secret caves. Nope! Want to know how you find items? You run into poles.
That’s right. You take Jack and slam his body into one of those green pillars. After running into a pillar (and promptly being blown back a short distance), an item will pop out and the player must catch it. The items that the player can get from pillars or find laying around the stage are:
- Medicine: When collected, the player can take one hit without losing a life. Jack’s outline will be changed to an orange color to signify the item being in effect. It is instantly in effect when picked up. Only found from pillars.
- Rocket: Allows you to shoot orbs of fire at monsters outside of the boss level. Useful when surrounded by numerous monsters, but disappears when you take damage, even if you have the Medicine. Only found from pillars.
- Mushroom: Kills you instantly. If you run face-first into a pole and this bad boy pops out, avoid it at all costs. Only found in pillars.
- Atom: When picked up, it makes the player invincible for a short period. Emphasis on short period—the effects only last about 3 seconds—and beware, there is no indication when it will fade away. As soon as the special music is done playing and the player is done flashing, you are a sitting duck if you’re running towards a monster. The best course of action is to continue to avoid enemies while this item is in effect. Sweet music though! Only found in pillars.
- Star: Not found in pillars. These are found laying around in many parts of the stage. Their use is just to increase your score. As such, do not kill yourself trying to get them. If you beat a boss with any stars, those will add a large chunk of extra points to your score. Every time you die, your star count will return to 0.
- Heart: Very useful, these items will give the player an extra life. They are quite rare, and are generally only available in pillars in the Special World.
- Balloon: Not found in pillars. These will be placed around the level. It will warp the player to the Special World, which is full of Stars and pillars that contain Potions and Hearts, and no enemies or chasms exist.
When you reach a boss at the end of the stage, the player has the ability to fly all around the screen and is given an unlimited amount of firepower to use against the Serpentbeast. In this stage, you must shoot down the Serpentbeast in the time allowed while avoiding touching or getting hit by any of their attacks. Shoot down every part of the Serpentbeast’s body and you’ve completed the level.
Like other early Square titles, this game has the ability to change between normal viewing and 3D viewing. By pressing the Select button during gameplay, the screen changes accordingly. If you have a pair of 3D glasses, you can play the game in 3D! Radical!
This game is also notorious among video game collectors. As many owners ended up losing or throwing away the pair of 3D glasses that came packaged with the game, it’s very hard to find a complete copy. The game cartridge itself is not very hard to obtain, but if you’re looking to get the complete set—game, booklet, box, glasses, and all—you’re going to spend a lot of time and most likely a pretty penny.
Overall, for a game that came out in 1987, it was ambitious, not too hard, but challenging enough that the average player could find sufficient challenge in it. The scrolling effect was done very well, and in a market where side-scrolling platformers were incredibly dominant, this game dared to take it in a new direction—quite literally. After 25 years, it has aged fairly well. It did suffer from its lack of a continue feature, meaning losing all of your lives would force the player to start at the very beginning of the game, but that was common among games of its time. There is a learning curve to adapt to as you get further and further into the game, with tricky jumps to make that require the player to jump on little spring-board monsters to make it across long chasms. Because the technology wasn’t yet refined, it was quite tedious to correctly predict where you had to land exactly to be able to spring across the chasms without a lot of practice or trial-and-error. Once you’ve mastered the skills required, the game becomes very fun, addicting, and interesting to play.
If you’re looking for a different experience on the NES, this game is a pretty good step—and surprisingly addicting for how simple it is. It’s not hard to find, and it won’t cost much to purchase at most game dealers. Buy it and become the one who can save Solar System #517 from terror!
Special Thanks: Square, GameCola, my brother for finding a copy of this game.
Other Review: This game has been previously reviewed on GameCola by Mark Freedman. Read it here!