On first glance Heavy Barrel doesn't look any different from the rest of the overhead shooters. In fact, when I first tossed the game in my 8-bit NES I thought I had accidentally pulled out Ikari Warriors, Commando or one of the countless other games that looks exactly the same. But I was wrong. I'm glad I gave this game a second glance, because Heavy Barrel turns out to be a solid shooter that gets right what so many other old school shooters get so, so wrong.
Heavy Barrel has a total throw away storyline. You play one of two heavily armed soldiers who are killing anything and everything in the way of rescuing a few kidnapped Americans. And if that wasn't enough, the hostage takers are international terrorists with a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The only way to beat them is to assemble the Heavy Barrel, a super weapon that will be the key to kicking the terrorist's butts.
What you'll notice from the get-go is that this weapon is in several parts, all scattered around the battlefield. As you blow up tanks and shoot at soldiers, you will locate a bunch of hidden keys. These keys are used to open the many locked boxes that litter the warzone. Sometimes these boxes will contain bonus points, sometimes it will be a powerful weapon you can use for a short time and, if you're lucky, you will find a piece of the Heavy Barrel.
While all this sounds generic enough, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed this shallow 8-bit shooter. This game does something unbelievable, it doesn't push you any faster than you want to go. With so many of these types of games you are either pushed forward or can't backtrack and discover hidden areas. Both of those problems have been resolved in Heavy Barrel. Much of the game is spent collecting keys and then going back to where you last saw the treasure chests. Even if that's not how you play the game, it's at least nice that Heavy Barrel gives you the option of exploring.
Unfortunately Heavy Barrel is not without faults. I was disappointed by the game's lacking control. While you can shoot in eight directions, that often doesn't feel like enough and you can die needlessly because of the weird aiming. This can be resolved by picking up better weapons, including a flame thrower that spreads out to kill a massive amount of enemies. My other complaint is the game's length; the whole thing is over far too quickly. What's also annoying is how some of the levels start to repeat over time.
Despite a few reservations, I enjoyed how fast the game moved and how good it generally looked. Oh sure, there are the always-present sprite flickers and the occasional slowdown, but it didn't seem to ruin the flow. There are a few graphic bugs here and there, so don't expect a flawless port of the arcade hit.
This may not be the best version of Heavy Barrel, but the NES port is certainly worth playing. The game definitely knows what is good and bad about this oversaturated genre, and it makes the best of the trappings. I enjoyed the variety of levels, the brief stories between levels and how well everything fit together. This may not be the best NES shooter on the market, but you won't go wrong with Heavy Barrel.