In 1985, Nichibutsu released an arcade game that brought something new to the shooter genre. The game was MagMax, and it was remade for the NES in 1988 by FCI, which was responsible for the Ultima series, Dr. Chaos and the early WCW wrestling games for the NES. Sadly, MagMax was overlooked by many gamers stuck in Mario-ville.
MagMax is a shooter that takes place above and below ground. Above ground, FCI utilized 2.5 dimension graphics, giving the game a semi-realistic (for it’s time) three-dimensional feel. While on the upper level, there are holes you can drop into, taking the battle for humanity underground. Below ground, however, MagMax becomes a staple 2D space shooter with no 3D elements.
The thing I really like about MagMax is the ability to upgrade your ship into a hulking mech. You start off as a puny little grunt ship dodging and shooting other space-aged enemies, but instead of collecting power-ups, you collect ship parts. Your ship can gain a torso, legs and a laser gun that more resembles a futuristic chainsaw type weapon than a gun of any type. After collecting all of the parts, you can control a giant mech with more guns and a cyber chainsaw… lasery… thing.
MagMax plays out like any old shooter. Start at point A, shoot, dodge and live to see point B and fight a huge boss. You can get from point A to B by staying above ground or below, or even mixing up your path to take the easiest route. Of course, you want to collect all of your mech parts to have more power to defeat the boss; but being a bigger mech means being a bigger target.
The difficulty of MagMax only seems to play a factor when you actually become a full mech and become a much bigger target for enemy fire. Overall though, MagMax isn’t too difficult to enjoy; but every shooter should provide some sort of challenge, yes?
The soundtrack is really nothing to write home about. It has a very Xevious-like generic futuristic soundtrack that fits the game well, but you won’t find yourself humming the tune while urinating in a public restroom anytime soon. I guess that is a good thing, though.
While I found MagMax to be quite enjoyable, there are better shooters out there. The ability to upgrade your mech really separates it from the rest of the staple shooters like Xevious, Gradius and Life Force but in doing so increases the difficulty of the game rather than giving you the advantage. I also found it to be a nice touch switching from 2.5D to 2D going above and below ground. It really gives both levels their own vibe.
Give MagMax a shot if you still purchase or emulate NES titles, as it’s more than likely been lost in the shuffle and you’ve looked passed it to play Super Mario Bros 2 or Contra.