Air Fortress on the NES: Hidden Gem or Forgettable Game?

I don’t know if Air Fortress is a forgotten gem or an unremarkable multi-genre shooter. It is an okay game that tries to combine a shoot’em up with a Metroid style of game.

There are a few things that could be improved with the game, which gets frustrating as the levels get more complicated. It is a game that I’m unsure if I enjoy it or not. I want to like it, but something keeps it from being anything more than it is.

Air Fortress looks good, has decent variety in its gameplay, and some of the game’s mechanics are good. It has an acceptable story for the time, and there are two quests that you can do. It just doesn’t do anything exceptional.

TLDR: A Decent Game that Doesn’t Do One Anything Well.


There is a basic story here. You come from a planet that has just started space travel. They come across a series of Air Fortresses that act like Locus. These Air Fortresses are heading toward your planet.

Your people sent a fleet of spaceships to destroy the Air Fortresses, but they were defeated. Once their first plan fails, they decide to send one person to deal with this. Could they have sent eight people? They could have, but the game wouldn’t be the same.

So, you play as the big hero tasked with saving the planet. It is a standard story for a 1980s video game. One person is fighting off a hoard of evil aliens.


There are two parts to each stage. The first is a horizontal-scrolling shooter, and the second is a Metroid-like platformer. Of the two parts, the second is the more polished.

The horizontal shooter isn’t all that great. It does serve a purpose. It is there to have the player collect more energy and bombs that will be essential for the second part of each Air Fortress.

There are a few things to collect in the shooter stages. Some help you when you enter the Air Fortress, and others don’t appear enough to matter much. Here is a list:

  • E Bubble – Gives you an extra 100 energy in the Air Fortress and acts as your health meter.
  • B Bubble – These are your bombs in the Air Fortress. They’re stronger than your standard blaster.
  • + Bubble – These destroy all enemies on the screen during the shooter level.
  • Dimond Bubble – Grant you temporary invincibility.

The E and B Bubbles appear randomly in both parts of each stage. They do give the player an incentive to blast every enemy they see. Some enemies always seem to drop one of these bubbles.

This is a good time to discuss the Metroid level in each stage. These are much better than the shooter levels but have several issues.

The goal of the Metroid levels is to destroy the core and escape before the Air Fortress explodes. The game does a good job of building up tension after the core is destroyed. The lighting gets darker, the screen starts to shake, and everything turns white if you don’t escape in time.

If you find the escape craft in time, you’re treated to a short cutscene of your character escaping before the Air Fortress explodes. It isn’t much, but I like this little cutscene. It shows how your character escapes, gets a new speeder, and explains how you get to the next level.

The Metroid levels get more complicated as the game continues. The exit and the core are further apart, and it can be hard to make it to the exit in time. This is one of my biggest issues in the game. You’re not given a timer for how long you have to escape. It is a minor issue, but I would have liked to have it.

All of that energy you collected in the shooter stages act as your hit points. You can get more during the level, but this is randomly given by killing enemies.

The enemies are different in the Metroid levels. They start as mostly robotic, and more organic enemies are added as the game progresses. Two of them are of note here.

The yellow and red butterfly enemies in the Metroid stages always seem to drop one of the bubbles. They have an erratic flying pattern and are a big contrast to the robotic enemies. This is also the first organic enemy that you will face.

You also encounter other people in spacesuits. These are the more challenging enemies, but you can take them out with a bomb or two. However, you might want to avoid losing one.

Blowing up the core and finding the exit are the two big things here. The levels get more confusing as the game gets harder, and the exit takes longer. This becomes a problem as you have limited time to escape.

Overall, the gameplay is okay. The shooter levels aren’t anything special, and the Metroid levels are much more fun. They offer some exploration, and you must decide how to go through each level. You can find the exit first or blow up the core and scramble to locate the exit.


The game either looks average or looks boring. The opening cutscene looks good for an NES game of the late 80s, and the other cutscenes are pretty good. These scenes occur when you enter the Air Fortress and when you escape from it.

The shooter levels aren’t that great looking. The background looks good until you notice it is a static image. There is no parallax scrolling in this game.

The enemies that you meet are mostly grey scale. In some ways, I like this as it shows that they are robots. However, it gets a little repetitive as you see the same gray enemies repeatedly.

Near the end of these shooter levels, you lose control of the ship, which is guided toward a landing pad. Your character dismounts his speeder bike spaceship and walks to the Air Fortress’s entrance. It looks pretty good.

In the Air Fortresses, things get more interesting from a visual standpoint. The enemies are more varied, and things look much better. The character’s movements are animated, and things are just better. I wish these sections had been the whole game.

Overall, Air Fortress has good graphics. They aren’t going to wow you, but they get the job done. If there were a sequel to this game, it would have been nice to see how things might have improved.

7/10. It is an okay game. It is challenging enough to keep a person playing, but there isn’t much to it. The player alternates between two gameplay types, but neither is done well enough to make the game better. Nostalgia is the biggest reason for someone to play it again.


  • Decent Graphics
  • Cutscenes
  • Attempts Multiple Genres


  • Repetitive Gameplay
  • Cheap Deaths
  • Short Time to Escape the End Levels


I would’ve liked to see what an Air Fortress 2 would have looked like. This is one of the games I think could be great if the gameplay was better. It is a fun game, but it gets repetitive after the first few levels.

The game has other problems. Not having a timer on screen is frustrating. The one-hit deaths on the horizontal shooter sections are annoying. It feels like a game that doesn’t know if it wants to be an arcade game or a console game.

I have some nostalgia for Air Fortress. It was one of the few games I owned in the early 90s, and I have fond memories of playing it with my brother. While it isn’t that great of a game, I enjoy going back to play it from time to time.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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