Console: NES 

Company: Konami  

Release Date: September 1987 

Genre: Shoot 'em Up 

Number of Players: 1 or 2 (simultaneous)  

Save Feature? Nope

Stinger has got to be one of the most underrated shoot 'em ups in existence. This game is absolutely stellar for an early NES release with its whimsical graphics, surprisingly catchy music, and pleasant gameplay. The nostalgic value is through the roof as well.

Overview: Back around 1987 or so, my cousin Michael and I would play NES classics like Skykid, Breakthru, and Wrecking Crew nonstop. Those were good times my friend...good times...back in the days when video games were video games. Anyway, it was around this time that Mike purchased a Konami game entitled Stinger. Judging from the box art of silly-looking spaceships being surrounded by watermelons and evil umbellas, I couldn't help but question his sanity. Why he bought that game I'll never know but it proved to be a wise investment; Stinger was a blast! Something about this game was just really special; perhaps it was the unique atmosphere or the sheer wackiness of it all. Stinger was also one of the first shoot 'em ups to allow two players to play simultaneously. My cousin and I could actually play at the same time! Imagine the concept! ;)

One of the things about Stinger that intrigued me was that it was not simply a stand-alone game like most games of that era. It wasn't until years later that I discovered that Stinger is actually in the popular Twinbee series! This series of shoot 'em ups is very popular in Japan but for some odd reason, most of the Twinbee games were never released in North America (probably for the same reason why Gradius Gaiden was never released in the States...darn it all!). This is such a shame because I would loved to have played more games in this series! Oh well...at least we were fortunate enough to get Stinger.

The neat thing about Stinger is that it feels nothing like Gradius even though the same company (Konami) made both games! The serious mood and grandeur of the Gradius series is nowhere to be found in Stinger yet it is certainly no Parodius either. This game is truly an enigma.

Even so, there are definitely classic elements of shoot 'em ups to be found in Stinger. Like in your typical shooter, you control a spaceship through both horizontal and vertical-scrolling levels. However, like in Sqoon, the spaceship has no pilot; it is actually alive! However, unlike Sqoon, this premise actually works here. Believe me, compared to some of the other intricacies of the game, living spaceships are nothing.

The object of Stinger is pretty much the same thing as any other shoot 'em up. Blast enemies, collect power-ups, and destroy the bosses. However, there is so much more to this game; otherwise, Stinger would be just another average shoot 'em up lost in the sea of mediocrity.

So what makes Stinger so special? Well, for one thing, the powerup system is quite unique; it even requires good hand-eye coordination! In each level of the game (save the final stage), you will notice that tiny clouds regularly pass by. By shooting the clouds, you can cause magic bells to fly into the air! Even though you can earn bonus points by touching these bells, the secret is to shoot the bells repeatly without allowing them to fall off the screen. Eventually, the bell will turn a different color and, once you touch it, the weapon/ability will be yours! If you're patient enough, you can earn some pretty sleek weapons. Blue bells give you a speed boost, white enables your double-shot ability, and red allows your Stinger to fire a piercing laser. If you're really patient and the bell cycles through all of these colors, you can get a rare flashing one! The flashing blue bell creates a force shield while a flashing white one gives you a valuable Option weapon! Hmm...perhaps Stinger isn't much different than Gradius after all; there are definitely some similarities in the weapons system anyway.

In addition to collecting bells, Stinger is filled to the brim with bonus items, helpful abilities, and even bonus stages! By blasting certain areas with missiles, you can obtain items that destroy all enemies, turn them into bells (I like this one!), or grant you temporary invincibility. There are even "L" and "R" items that allow you to shoot sideways or behind you in the vertical-scrolling stages! You don't have to worry about those annoying enemies that sneak up on you this way! Also, if you're able to find the secret item that looks like the Professor, you'll gain access to a secret bonus stage once the boss of that stage is destroyed. As you can see, there are a lot of goodies to be found in this game.

Graphics: Even though Stinger may seem like your typical shooter at first, once you play a few stages and get to face some of the wackiest enemies/bosses in video game history, you'll discover the truth. The unique atmosphere of this game just wouldn't be possible without the nice graphics. In my opinion, Konami did a great job in this area; especially for such an early release. For an NES game, Stinger just has a lot of personality and, like I just said, I really liked the atmosphere/feel of this game. It's such a whimsical game yet it doesn't overdo things (like Parodius). I suppose that you could say that Stinger is to the shoot 'em up genre what Monster Party was to the action genre. It took a basic premise, made all kinds of goofy adjustments, and somehow ended up being magical!

As far as the actual graphics go, everything just feels really crisp. Konami always did have a knack for colorful yet detailed graphics; even way back then. What really stands out to me has to be the remarkable diversity of the game's seven levels. Each stage is so different from the last! Stage 1 takes place in a serene pastoral area, Stage 4 in a snow field filled to the brim with snow and pine trees, and Stage 6 near an airbase. I don't know; it just seemed to flow very well.

What gives Stinger its unique personality, though, would have to be the various animations. Some of the enemies move in such a goofy way! Half the time, you can't even tell what the enemies are; they are that wacky! Flying umbrellas, mushrooms, suns literally chasing you down; it's crazy man! And the bosses...zowie! In Stinger, you literally fight a watermelon, a radio, and a sun with six eyes! Watermelon seeds and musical notes can be lethal in this game!

Music: Now here's where Stinger really throws a curveball. In a game this weird and wacky, you would expect short, silly tunes right? Well, I fully expected that style of music when Michael and I first fired up the game; after all, how could a game like this actually have serious music? Well, all I can say is that the music in this game is actually intelligent and is very pleasant to the ears. I can't believe how great it is! Even if the game had been released years later, the music would have still been up to snuff.

If you have played any other Konami games from this era (e.g. The Goonies II, Rush 'n Attack), you have a good idea of what to expect in Stinger. There are two styles of music in this game: serene and upbeat! The calm tunes play at the beginning of the stage while the more upbeat ones begin once you've obtained a special weapon/ability. This was quite innovative at the time too. How many shoot 'em ups had more than one tune for a given stage?

My favorite music in this game has to be the main stage theme. It is so rich for an NES pak and it creates the perfect atmosphere. It is so nice that sometimes, I'll just wait to pick up powerups so I can hear it longer! Even so, the powerup music is very impressive as well. It gets your competitive juices flowing anyway. The boss themes are also decent with the extremely short Game Over and stage intro diddies being surprisingly memorable as well. I love the Stage 7 tracks as well; very nostalgic stuff. The final boss battle and the ending theme didn't disappoint either. Granted, nostalgia is definitely the driving force behind my appreciation for the game's music but still, Stinger features surprisingly good tracks.

The sound effects are also pretty good. I always loved the sound of enemies getting squished; pretty funny stuff. The bells getting shot in the air sounded very realistic as well. Most of the sound effects were pretty standard stuff but overall, Konami did fine.

Play Control: Not surprisingly, the controls in Stinger feel a lot like Gradius. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be all that surprised if Konami just did a copy and paste job. Like in Gradius, the spaceship moves a little too slowly at first; you definitely want to grab a blue bell right away. Also, your Stinger isn't limited to shooting forward; it drops missiles on the ground below. A lot of the weapons in Stinger (double shot, laser, force field) are virtually identical to the ones found in Gradius as well. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Even though there are obvious similarities between the two games, Stinger is still unique due to the fact that you have to shoot bells repeatedly to gain powerups (you can't simply pick up a pod like in Gradius) and the vertical stages allow you to land bombs in addition to firing straight ahead. The vertical stages can be a lot of fun because, while the main focus is destroying enemies and just staying alive, loads of secret items and bonuses can be uncovered by using bombs at the right spots.

Challenge: Stinger is pretty average in terms of difficulty. It can be reasonably easy or testy as all get-out; depending on how you play. Like any shoot 'em up, the difficulty decreases dramatically if you are able to buff up your Stinger early on and keep it powered up throughout the game. It also helps that if you lose a life, you have one opportunity to regain all powerups! You have to be fast though because your previous Stinger's angel spirit rises to the top of the screen. You've got to touch it before it disappears or you're screwed!

It's when you're stuck in Stages 6 and 7 with no powerups that things can get really taxing. This is especially true in Stage 7 where you literally have to have obtained two blue bells to be fast enough to manuever around the flying suns and the final boss. Believe me, naked spaceships don't stand a chance in outer space. Even so, Stinger is nowhere in the same nebula as Life Force in terms of challenge. If you want to really be pushed to the max, try beating that monster with NO codes!

Storyline: Like in 99% of the shoot 'em ups that were released during this time, the background story in Stinger is totally absurd. However, it isn't nearly as bad as Sqoon's plot; anything is better than fighting Neptunians underwater.

The story begins with the Professor working in his laboratory. Although everything appears normal, all hell breaks loose when a barrage of lightning attacks causes the lab (which resembles a huge robot...weeeeeird...) to burst into flames. Suddenly, a mysterious UFO lands and two aliens take the Professor hostage!

As insane as this sounds, it gets even better. Evidently, the aliens' intentions are not to destroy the world or rule humanity. No, these aliens have a sweet tooth and they crave candy...cotton candy as a matter of fact and lots of it! So what can they do? Well, they're going to turn the entire world into cotton candy; that's what! That should give them enough to chew on for, say, the next 30,000 years. Of course, they didn't have the brains to accomplish such a sticky feat but, with the Professor's help, they hope to realize their dream.

Okay, perhaps this story is as ridiculous as Sqoon's. Anyway, this is where the Stingers come in. Before the Professor's enslavement, he created two remarkable spaceships that he dubbed "Stingers." Even though they look like ordinary spaceships (with the exception of their arms), they are actually alive and can think for themselves! With their beloved professor being missing and being the loyal Stingers that they are, the twosome decide to search for their master and to destroy the fiends behind this madness. Thus, the insanity begins!

Okay, as you can see, Stinger isn't perfect in every area. This story has got to be one of the silliest ones ever! However, you've got to remember that this is a 1987 release and also, it's a shoot 'em up. It seems like all shoot 'em ups had pretty crappy stories back then. Even so, for a game as wild and wacky as Stinger, this story actually seems fitting! You do have to wonder about Konami though. Somebody had to have been taking drugs around 1987 because several of their games had utterly absurd plots! Just look at The Goonies II (Annie's a mermaid?!) if you need further proof. Oh well, at least the gameplay rocks.

Funfactor: I found Stinger to be such a pleasant experience. Pleasant to the eyes, pleasant to the ears, pleasant in pretty much every which way. The game simply screams the good ole' 1980s with its wonderfully whimsical atmosphere and polished gameplay. While it is certainly no Life Force, it's nobody's chopped liver either. To be perfectly candid, I fail to see why Stinger shouldn't be considered as one of the Top 5 NES shoot 'em ups ever made. With the exception of Life Force and possibly Gyruss, I can't think of a better NES shoot 'em up than Stinger. Gun-Nac, Zanac, and of course Gradius were all impressive but Stinger has something that these games lack. It really is a shame that most people passed this game by; they unknowingly missed the most underrated shoot 'em up ever made for the NES.

Negatives: Like with Gyruss, the only real problem that I have with Stinger is the game's background story. You can tell that there really wasn't much of an effort on Konami's part. Still, Stinger's plot is better than a handful of other NES shoot 'em ups and it doesn't hurt the game's atmosphere or gameplay at all.

Although I found Stinger to be challenging in a good way, I do have a minor gripe about the final stage. It is literally impossible to avoid some of the enemies along with the final boss if you didn't get at least one blue bell. Aside from those minor gripes, it's hard to find anything really wrong with Stinger.


Ratings: Graphics: 4.0 Music: 4.5 Play Control: 4.2 Challenge: 3.8 Storyline: 3.2 Funfactor: 4.3 Overall Score: 24.0 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo


Last Updated: May 21, 2006
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