What do you get when you cross a fairly iconic Marvel superhero with a game that is not only NES hard but is one of the most difficult games on the system? You get Silver Surfer for the NES, a game that combines side-scrolling shooter elements with tough-as-nails gameplay that is unforgiving from start to finish.
Now, before you get your pitchforks and start massing around the grave of LJN, this is, oddly, not one of their creations. Coming from the devs at Software Creations, Silver Surfer for the NES was published by Arcadia Systems in November 1990, arriving at the tail end of the NES’ life.
The Silver Surfer, one of the few Marvel properties to make an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a herald of the world eating Galactus and a man with a skin of metal and a surfboard capable of transporting him through the solar system. First appearing in The Fantastic Four number 48 in 1966, the Silver Surfer is very much a character of his time and an interesting subject for a video game.
Flying on the surfboard from which he draws his name, the gameplay of Silver Surfer hews largely towards shoot ‘em up mechanics with the perspective changing from side scrolling to top down at certain moments. Stages are divided into sections with mini bosses breaking up the action between these segments. Stages end with a boss encounter that pits the Silver Surfer against one of his traditional foes though, of this, perhaps only Mephisto and the Emperor of the Skrulls will be recognizable to modern players.
Infamous today for its difficulty, at its release the Silver Surfer received largely mixed reviews from critics. Though it employed a password system that would make the Silver Surfer invincible, among other things, the game, in its purest state, was quite a slog to undertake even back then. This makes the game less compelling now for any but the most masochistic among us. Even Marvel fans of the property itself will be hard pressed to find a lot to love about this game.
This is because it simultaneously takes two steps forward while also taking one step back. The password system and the ability to choose your own path are great and reminiscent of titles like Mega Man. But then the difficulty and lack of meaningful powerups make the game difficult not only by design but perhaps by mistake. Is the Silver Surfer the galaxy’s most underpowered superhero ever? This game will make you think he is.
Living on today as a byword for an awful and needlessly difficult game, the Silver Surfer is hard to recommend to the casual player but for the diehard fan of tough-as-nails NES games, it is a must-play title. Often when we talk about “NES hard,” we don’t do a good job of quantifying what that really means in practice. If you want to see the definition of 8-bit, Nintendo difficulty, then look no further than the Silver Surfer.