113. Ikari Warriors

Ikari Warriors (1987, NES) by SNK

Current Any% (No ABBA) Leaderboard (speedrun.com)

Ikari Warriors (NES)
-Ikari Warriors (Arcade)
-Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (NES)

Almost 5 years ago, I set out to speedrun all of the “shitty games that suck ass”.  Inspired by the challenge of speedrunning some of the hardest games in retro, with some of the jankiest controls and most unfair mechanics, the goal laid out in front of me was daunting.  And no game on that list scared the living shit out of me more than Ikari Warriors.  This game, from even before Day #1 of the AVGN Trials, put the fear of God in me.  I knew this would be a challenge unlike no other I’ve faced in speedrunning.  And, while the game was nowhere near as impossible as I once feared, it lived up to the hype, and was a fitting end cap to the Trials.

Ikari Warriors is a 1986 NES port of the Arcade game of the same title, both made by SNK.  This early NES game has some impressive content in terms of size and scope, although to its’ detriment if you ask most people.  These 4 levels are INCREDIBLY long, taking over 7 minutes on average IN THE SPEEDRUN to complete.  And what’s worse: you only have 3 lives to start, and without the ABBA code there are zero continues.  And EVERYTHING kills you in one hit.  This is NES hard as NES hard gets, and this is easily the most difficult video game I’ve ever played in my life.  And I’ve played Wally Bear, folks.

Despite this, it’s still a fun game to play.  You control Ralf (I think) and you go through these stages with grenades and an offset gun, with janky 8-direction controls that move like a drunk tank.  You do get used to them, however, and it does get easier to play, but the enemies move with such RNG that it almost doesn’t matter.  You HAVE to get lucky to survive in some spots, simple as that.  Speed strats can help, but only to an extent; the level of randomness in this speedrun is even higher than games like Zelda 1, or turds like Karate Champ or Hong Kong ’97.  It makes for a marathon of epic proportions, in which you have to not only play at a high level with constant attention, but do so whilst getting lucky.  It sucks!  But it is still fun, believe it or not.  This style of gameplay works great… if only it were executed better, like games such as Iron Tank or Jackal.

The graphics are quite primitive and the music loops over and over, but for a 1986 NES game, dare I say it’s almost (key word) impressive?  It doesn’t make it good by any means, but it’s not as bad as some might lead you to believe.  The low frame rate does make your head hurt after a while, and you’ll yearn for good ol’ 60 FPS games by the end of it.  Again, you do adjust to it over time, but it’s not an adjustment you’ll want to make.  Eventually, it doesn’t bother you anymore, and the music becomes borderline catchy.  It is an earworm that you’ll reluctantly recall the next day.

The speedrun makes a lot of things easier, but also makes some sections quite difficult, requiring you to memorize every static enemy spawn and item location.  With the awesome helicopter glitch, you get to skip large chunks of levels 1, 3, and 4, at the cost of 2 of your precious lives.  Fortunately, the game gives extra lives at 50k, 100k, and 200k points, so you end up with a budget of 4 lives to beat the game on (in my run, I only used 3 of them.  Poverty.) making this absolutely worth the trade-off.  The glitch is both faster AND safer, and gives a well-earned break in those stages.  A tank manipulation in level 2 makes a short chunk of that stage much easier as well, though it is doable on foot.  In fact, moving on foot is the fastest strat, and would be the ticket to WR if I kept running this game (spoiler alert: I won’t).  Some areas require precision grenades with perfect timing, or else you die.  And even if you nail the throws, RNG can strike at any time, making for a white-knuckle experience in stages 3 and 4.

If you die at any point in the run, you lose your power-ups and respawn.  With a heart in your inventory this doesn’t happen, making hearts required items to pick up.  You also get upgrades for your gun and bigger grenades, and a super speed pickup, as well as a knife that allows you to touch enemies and obstacles without taking a death.  These are required, and if you die and lose them, the run is all but over at that point.  This makes dying in some spots, for all intents and purposes, a reset.  This just so happens to make some of the hardest stretches in the game even harder, and I reset SO many times in stage 2 because of this fact.

SNK could’ve had a banger here if they had made the game a bit easier.  Continues, not losing items on starting new stages or dying, faster movement overall, or even just some sort of extra hit points, would’ve gone a long way.  Instead, they inadvertently made one of the most grueling video games of all time, and I am both extremely relieved I will never have to play this again… and very proud I did so.

This is the motherlode speedrun.  Only the most hardcore of hardcore need apply.  But you’ll feel the payoff is worth it if you do.


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