By 1989 there were a diverse selection of Star Trek games available for various consoles and home computers, including the first title based on Star Trek: The Next Generation; an MS-DOS adventure game called The Transinium Challenge where you play Commander Riker in charge of a team investigating terrorist attacks in the Aquila system. It was one of the first games to showcase the format that would go on to characterize many of the Star Trek games I remember, such as plotting a course in stellar cartography and leading an away team comprised of party members of your choosing, each of whom has their own unique skillsets. The Transinium Challenge was also interesting because of its emphasis on diplomacy and puzzle-solving instead of space tactics, and its original extraterrestrial culture, which draws heavy influence from Celtic mythology and folklore.
But no, I had to pick a game for the NES based on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
To be fair, it's not strictly a red flag when you get a game based on a mediocre, unsuccessful movie. Sometimes passionate and tenacious video games based on licenses can rise above and beyond their source material to become well-loved and effective in their own right in spite of their roots: Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the NES and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for the XBOX are both considered classics, while the movies they were based on...aren't. Simply being Star Trek V: The Final Frontier does not doom this game from the outset. If anything, Star Trek V should work *better* as a video game freed from the constraints of the linear narrative structure of the Hollywood blockbuster. What is somewhat concerning, however, is the fact this game was never actually released and is only available as a reproduction cart or through particularly creative means. Also, that it was designed by Bandai Games. That name may not ring a bell for a lot of you, but it had me both completely astonished and incredibly apprehensive, because this is the exact same team responsible for that godawful Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N. game for the Famicom Disk System.
And yet even so, this was *still* easier to find and get actually running than an old DOS game would have been. I've reached the age where actually having my video games *work* out-of-the-box is a requirement for me to invest my time, so this was kind of a deciding factor for me. So, having something of a baseline set of expectations for what I was in for, I braced myself for the worst and fired up Star Trek V: The Final Frontier to see what this crew came up when given a far less coherent film to adapt.
|Well, it's pretty. Parts of it.|
(And no, it doesn't remotely resemble either Kirk *or* Sulu. Why on Earth would you think that it would?)
|Get used to seeing this screen a lot.|
You do get powerups, but they make no logical or aesthetic sense: Starfleet emblems restore health while hyposprays (?!) give you more phaser energy. Then there's something that looks like a rock, and I have no idea what that's supposed to be or do. Regardless of what the powerups look like, there never seem to be enough of them to keep you going for too long, and poor Sulu always winds up crumpling into a heap at the feet of some Jawa dude who keeps jumping up and down like an evil jackrabbit. The game does have infinite continues (again, like Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N.), which I would normally applaud, but the flip side of that is that you technically have *no excuse* not to keep going until you master its arcane rules. Save, perhaps, your sense of good taste and the value you place on your time and energy.
|The Enterprise warp effect is pretty nicely realised.|
|I quite like the sprite art for the interior scenes. It's pretty good for the time and place.|
These kind of games are always hard to review because, since they're unfinished prototypes, they're not necessarily indicative of what the final product could have been. But I'll be honest. I wouldn't have held hugely high hopes for this one simply looking at its pedigree. It improves some things from Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N., yes, albeit just barely. but let's actually think about that for a minute: Project E.D.E.N. was designed for the Famicom Disk System, which is a technically superior console. What does it honestly say about the job this team did on that game that anything on the NES could be seen as an improvement? I, for one, am pretty incensed that Bandai slagged off Dirty Pair (especially ironic given that Bandai Games' parent company now *owns* Sunrise) and did a better job on *Star Trek V* of all things, even if in practice all it amounts to is half-assing it a little bit less. And then there's the fact that Project E.D.E.N. didn't actually have much more content than this game does in the first place: In other words, Bandai Games is telling us a *full retail game* on an *advanced console peripheral* is worth roughly about as much as an unfinished prototype you can find distributed on the Internet for free if you look hard enough.
(And yes, I know ROMs exist of Project E.D.E.N. too and its something like thirty years later, but that's not the point and you know what I mean. One was considered good enough to sell for $50 or however much and one wasn't, and they're essentially the same damn thing.)
But on the other hand, this may well be the definitive Star Trek V: The Final Frontier game simply because of that: Just like the movie it's based on, this game is a half-assed rush-job with with tragically unfulfilled potential cobbled together to keep tapping the lucrative Star Trek brand with no regard to how much it insults the audience's intelligence in the process and how badly that reflects on the creators.
Prophets, that's depressing. I need to go do something fun now.