Shooting the walls of heartache
I have this headcanon with Ai Senshi Nicole, that it is about a female protagonist who tries to save her friend. It’s not very long winded. The title translates to Love Warrior Nicol (maybe they meant Nicole, but the English lyrics spell it Nicol). The main character has bright pink hair (which isn’t strictly gendered, just to be clear). Their name is Nicole. Maybe it’s an unlikely subtext for a game that was released before Capers in the Castro, but a girl can dream. Sometimes I wish 80s video games were a little more gay.
Ai Senshi Nicole is a top-down, flip-screen shooter from Konami. If you think The Legend of the Guard but without the shoot ’em up sections, I’ll have to take your word for it as it’s been years since I last played it. I especially remember the amazing heroine who could turn into a spaceship. Perhaps the top-down sections of blaster master are a better reference point. The plot is that you have to save your girlfriend, whose name is not Nicole. It’s Stella.
Your task is to collect three crystals on each level. They are hidden in underground sections of each stage and are largely scattered to the far corners. To reach them, you’ll need to do some light platforming from above and blast through a plethora of bad guys. There is no instant death. Even if you screw up a jump, you’ll just fall into an underworld area and have to climb out to continue. That’s great, because death means you’re starting the stage all over again.
To avoid repeating entire stages, look for power-ups. Astro Wear, Astro Pants, Power Shoes and more. Oh, I see you’re already wearing your astro pants. Because your ass is out of this world.
As crazy as the nomenclature is, it’s really important to look for this equipment. Astro Wear reduces damage you take, Power Shoes make you go faster, and Astro Pants prevent space lava from burning your hyperbens. These aren’t dropped by enemies, which is lucky as it reduces the amount of grinding you might be tempted to do. Instead, they are littered all over the area, making Ai Senshi Nicole a hint of resource management. You’ll have it easier if you strike early and then don’t die. The Raiden or Gradius strategy.
The gameplay is extremely simple. The shooting, platforming and exploration are extremely boilerplate. Even if it’s not exceptional, it’s pretty tight, which is never guaranteed with 8-bit games. It’s fun, just not exactly inventive.
What it does excel at is the variety of enemies, excellent sprite work and music score. It’s not exactly Travel to Silius soundtrack wise, but it has some good bops. It’s Konami after all, and I can’t name any of their Famicom games with a bad soundtrack. Hold on, I’ll try… No, I’m not coming to me.
The place where Ai Senshi Nicole most satisfies is in his secrets. Since it’s a Famicom Disk System game, you can save, but it might be best to get into the habit of starting the game over. Certain power-ups are significantly better than your standard Cosmo Ball. There are hidden upgrades that increase your health and weapon. They are used sparingly and only at certain levels, so figuring out where they are can give you a huge advantage in the final stages of the game.
Even without them, Ai Senshi Nicole has no deadly challenge. With a little patience it is all doable, but it might be a bit more fun if you get Nicol nice and doped. There are seven levels in total, which makes the storage system almost a requirement. You can probably beat it in an afternoon, but don’t make any other plans.
While I’m not in the running for my favorite Konami Famicom discoveries, Ai Senshi Nicole is well worth the time, especially if you are looking for something to put in your drive system. What it lacks in memorability it makes up for by simply being a quality game. Sure, you might remember it better if you take my gay main gun for it.
Other than the title screen logo, I can’t recall seeing even a snippet of Japanese text in Ai Senshi Nicole† There is no dialogue (apart from Oh! Mygod.) and the inventory screen is in English. A more useful translation would be for the manual, but there’s no information there that you can’t find anywhere else on the web.
Like many Konami Famicom games, Ai Senshi Nicole was re-released on mobile phones once in 2006. However, it was never localized, even though it would have been great for the 3DS Virtual Console. Konami has released some surprising collections lately, so fingers crossed we’ll see something rounding out their early releases that don’t necessarily fit into a longer series. Games like Ai Senshi Nicole† Getsu Fuuma Deniand Yume Penguin Monogatari† Again, a girl can dream.
View previous Famicom Fridays here.