Let this low-flying mess stay grounded
As a child of the 1980s, there was one major requirement I had to know: the major prime time action shows and what nights and networks that they came on. Two of those shows were Knight Rider on Fridays on NBC and Airwolf on Saturdays on CBS. These two shows were so popular that Acclaim Entertainment was able to get license rights from Universal Television to develop video games for both shows. In a previous issue of GI, we reviewed Knight Rider for the NES in the Torture of the Quarter section. Could Airwolf break this curse of popular shows turned into horrible games? It was time to find out.
Airwolf follows the plot based on the TV show in that you take the role of Stringfellow “String” Hawke, who is given a mission by the CIA to rescue prisoners of war from unknown terrorist groups using the top-secret helicopter known as Airwolf. As String conducts the mission, he finds out that one of the prisoners being held is his long-lost brother who was declared missing in action during the Vietnam War. This gives him added incentive to carry out his given mission.
Airwolf’s gameplay is a simulated first-person view that was applied to the Knight Rider game. You have the view of Airwolf that is clear enough to see your enemies and to attack enemy strongholds such as aircraft towers, prisoner camps and repair depots. However, this is the game’s Achilles’ heel. Control is not flexible when you need it to be during dogfights with enemy aircraft. You’re required to shoot first or destroy aircraft towers if you don’t fire your limited missiles with precise timing. The inflexibility rears again when you land at a prisoner camp landing gently and still die.
The graphics were OK, but they were akin to flight simulator games that were highly popular during the ’80s. To give Airwolf a fraction of a chance for a good review, I found the debriefing scene excellent, giving me the appropriate data of destroyed enemies, rescued prisoners and intercepted missiles.
Sadly, I was ENRAGED that Acclaim could be this sloppy with a franchise such as Airwolf. Don’t get me wrong, Acclaim did go on to make better video games based on popular franchises, but like Knight Rider, Airwolf failed to show me any redeeming reason for replay.
Airwolf — like Knight Rider — are games that are recommended only for the diehard fans of the ’80s that want to relive the action-packed nights of their childhood. While I loved both shows, unfortunately their action-packed formula that produced major ratings for TV did not translate well into video game format. Acclaim did learn well from these mistakes, but they gave the first MasterClass lesson in video gaming of being careful with popular franchises. If you want my advice, skip both games and play them on readily available emulators; you’ll save time and hard-earned money.
- Airwolf was created by Donald P. Belisario, who was known for pop culture-worthy shows such as Quantum Leap, Magnum, P.I., JAG and NCIS, which is still airing on CBS.
- The actual Airwolf was based on a Bell 222 helicopter designed for corporate travel, emergency medical transport and utility transport. A full replica of Airwolf was on display at a Tennessee aviation museum but has since been sold to a private collector in Bel Aire, Calif.
- There were numerous versions of Airwolf made for various home systems, but a side scrolling arcade version was developed by Japanese developer Kyugo in 1987. Acclaim released the NES version a year later, after the show went off the air four years earlier.