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Box art of Air Fortress NES version
Air Fortress (エアーフォートレス Eā Fōtoresu?) is a video game published in Japan for the Nintendo Entertainment System released in Japan in 1987 and later in North America in September 1989. According to a publication by IGN.com only a total of 385 copies of the game were shipped to the United States in 1987, and it is believed that only 20 were shipped beforehand as a test run for the system. Within PAL-A regions, it was only released in Australia.
Air Fortress has a fairly typical alien invasion storyline: the people of the planet Farmel, having recently gained the technology for space travel, eagerly explored the galaxy only to find a herd of monstrous "Air Fortresses" moving in their direction. Like the creatures in the later movie Independence Day, the Fortresses behave like interstellar locusts, consuming all of the resources and living things in their path. The Space Federation sends their mightiest fleet, but they are quickly eliminated by the powerful Fortresses. In a final gambit, they send a single warrior (Hal Bailman), outfitted with a shielded spacesuit, powerful weapons, and small lightship to infiltrate the Fortresses and destroy them from the inside out.
As Hal Bailman, the player infiltrates the progressively more challenging Air Fortresses. Each Air Fortress has two levels: the Air Base and the Fortress itself.
On approach to the Air Fortress, Hal Bailman battles the enemy from his lightship. The gameplay is that of a side-scrolling shooter. During this phase, the player has three attempts to successfully reach the Air Lock that grants access to the Air Fortress. Along the way, the player must dodge a variety of flying enemies and space station parts. The player also has a chance during this phase to collect energy and crash beam bullets—a more powerful ammunition, but one of limited supply—that can be used inside the Fortress.
In this mode of play, a single hit will destroy the player's ship. In the Japanese version, if Hal collides with an enemy while on his lightship, he must restart the approach sequence from the beginning. But in the American version, the player will automatically be respawned from the same point at which his ship was destroyed, provided that they have extra lives.
Inside the Fortress, the game becomes an action-adventure game. The player now has more control over where they go—in fact, some later Fortresses are massive internally, making navigation one of the major challenges of the game. The player must navigate through the maze, fighting off enemy robots, security devices, and spacemen with their beam weapon, find and destroy the central core of the Fortress, and find their ship to escape. The last is perhaps the most difficult part, since the Fortress explodes shortly after the core is destroyed, leaving the player with a small time window in which to find the exit, and the exit is never the same place as where the player entered the maze.
HAL America offered Air Fortress by mail order through a national advertising campaign. Players who purchased the game through HAL received a free Air Fortress T-shirt.
Air Fortress was developed by Japanese video game maker HAL Laboratory. "SUGA," the password for the final air fortress, is a reference to Air Fortress director, game designer, and programmer Hiroaki Suga. While the US version credits sound composer Hideki Kanazashi as "Rodeo Kanagushi", the Japanese version credits him as "Jumper Kanagushi".