The Rube’s Review: Darkman (NES 1991)

NES Darkman Review

After looking at the oh-so-familiar word OCEAN on the label, my first reaction was to drop it like a burning hellspawn baby diaper and run, but then I thought to myself… Yeah, it’s a movie game, but come on, IT’S DARKMAN!

Nintendo, Gameboy
1-2 Players

Man I hate movie games, all of them are terrible. Most of these reeking cheese nuggets feel like they were made over a weekend by the lowest bidding developer who – with either little or no knowledge of the film – somehow pieces together a game that’s riddled by glitches and bugs.

As a wee fanboy, I grew up seeing fantastic films such as Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones and like most kids, right after leaving the theater I naturally wanted every toy, lunchbox, and game related to those movie experiences. Carrying on the adventure was an important part of social interaction with your school chums, after all. I remember hanging on the monkey bars with my friends, talking for hours about our favorite scenes as we tried to keep the recent exciting celluloid experience fresh in our young minds. Even at bedtime, we’d fall asleep holding our stuffed mogwi filled with dreams of being Dr. Jones sidekick… and you know what f#cks all that sh#t up? Spending all of your bar mitzvah money on a &#@! movie game that promises so much but turns out to be a tight coil of digital dogsh#t.

Darkman-NES-startI’m sure most of you remember the first time you got suckered by a movie title game; sitting there, heartbroken with a junior case of buyer’s remorse, wondering why the Back to the Future game had nothing to do with the film. Why it had a horribly repetitive, wrist-slitting soundtrack and an impossible time limit for each level. Crying, you wonder to yourself, “Why God, why you would release such a sh#tty game based on my favorite movie?”

Then, as you wiped the tears from your eyes, you stood up like a man and swore on a stack of Batman comics that next time it’ll be different; that you’ll never get duped again by high tech swindlers like LJN or OCEAN who made promises of good gameplay and graphics but instead only deliver a steaming dumptruck of toxic 8-bit garbage… NO, I’m never going to be a sucker ever again! From this day forward, I promise that… “Hey, there’s a Back to the Future 2 game out…? Oh man, I wonder if its as good as the… OH GOD &$#!@ DAMMIT!”


…you’ll realize how short of a level it really was and that the game just makes you feel like schmuck for wasting so much time on it.

For those that are not familiar with Sam Raimi’s non-chainsaw cult classic, DARKMAN is about a scientist that gets horribly disfigured in a gangland explosion, destroying his lab and most of his face. Now with the power of science, Dr. Payton Westlake can now mask himself as anyone and gets his revenge on the thugs that turned him into a disfigured monster. The movie itself is fantastic. Take away the 90’s backdrop and you’re really watching a 30’s noir gangster movie with a Frankenstein-ish anti-hero. Darkman came out of nowhere, was a big hit, and continues to be a favorite with comic book and horror fans alike. So, with high hopes, I paid the man a meager $5 (average price), took a McBreak, decided to ignore my adolescent instincts and pressed the POWER button…

Darkman-NES-screen2First, lets take a look at the title screen… WOW! Just seeing an 8-bit version of the movie poster is giving me hope and the feeling that this might be a good game after all. At the title screen, you have the choice of clicking on Story, which gives you a 3-page “cliff notes” version of the film or you can just start the game. When doing so you get an introduction, which reads:

Darkman is trapped inside a deserted warehouse by Durant’s Men. You must escape the complex and carry out your plan of revenge… use buttons A and B to balance on Tightrope.

Hey that’s kinda nice of Ocean, letting me know what my goal is so as to not overcomplicate things. So you start the first level and… WHOA, what the f#ck is up with all of the meters and sh#t above the screen? From playing video games, I understand what the Score, Power, and Heart Meters are but what’s the deal with the “drinkie bird meter” thing and the spinning mask head? Eh, whatever, I’m sure it’s just some complicated mask timer crap that I’ll have to figure out later.


Moving on, you continue the first level (warehouse setting) to the right and after jumping and dying three of four times to make a high platform you finally realize that you can grab the side of the wall and Spider-Man yourself up to the next platform. If you’re lucky enough to finally pull that off, you’ll continue to battle thugs that take half of your energy while fighting and do their best to bump you backwards off the platform. Sometimes you can skip battling these power-draining thugs with the use of tight ropes that involve pressing the A and B buttons for balance while you press right on the controller, but this takes as much concentration as if you were walking a real tight rope.

You will be screaming over and over again after each death, due to sh#tty controls, over/under jumping moving platforms and fighting more generic thugs AND when you finally get patterns down and pass level one, you’ll realize how short of a level it really was and that the game just makes you feel like schmuck for wasting so much time on it. By the time that you finally make it to Level Two, you have used up your four continues and you’ll have to start over, if you haven’t drop kicked your NES out the window by this point. Before you try for that satisfying field goal into the alleyway dumpster, though… just take a break, breathe and know that there is a cheat code* to access any level.

Darkman-NES-screen4Now, if you’re still into self-punishment, you’ll continue the frustrating journey of 1000 deaths with a tour of Central Park as you impersonate gangland thug, Pauly. Decked out in a pink Members Only jacket and carrying a Flintstone-sized billy club, you take a daytime stroll while dodging lumber mill saws, pest exterminators, and piranha… and you thought Central Park was only dangerous at night! As “Leisure Suit Uncle Fester,” you make your way picking up pink vials, going Captain Caveman on tree dwelling thugs. I’m assuming that these vials increase your drinkie bird/mask wearing time. Since I passed this level without that meter going to zero and with no further information found in the instruction booklet, I can only guess if that meter hits zero, you’ll lose a life and have to start over.

After that level you’ll continue your adventure to a sideshow funhouse, through the streets of Chinatown, and finally battle crime boss Durant on a construction level. After hotfooting it through the park stage, these remaining levels just get &%$#! brutal. Every new level takes infinite patience and expert planning just to NOT die. If you’re not dying from over-jumping, you’re getting the crap kicked out of you due to the poor hit detection, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the form of mini games.


The first mini game is a travel platform maze, which is very reminiscent of Capcom’s Megaman. Then there’s a Hogan’s Ally-isic mini game, which involves you shooting pictures of thugs in windows (to make masks and steal their identities) while dodging baddie gunfire, as well as a mini game that has you swinging on a helicopter rope while you gather random items while dodging vehicles and other enemy fodder. While these mini games do make a great reward, as the game progresses these once-fun levels just turn into cruel jokes, sometimes surpassing the extreme difficulty of the regular levels. The last “fun” platform maze game is f#cked up, too fast, and full of too many dead ends that it’ll take a miracle that you don’t write a note stating “F#ck this game!” and take a short bath with your sister’s plugged in curling iron. Yes, Darkman can be fun (at times), but is worth the torment?



Darkman is a very challenging game with it’s many levels and fun mini game breaks, but with only four continues it is impossible to beat. The only thing that saves this game from a public execution via toaster-slot-set-on-bagel-setting is the cheat code*. If it wasn’t for those sweet, endless continues I would never play this game ever again.


+ 20 challenging levels
+ Nice graphics & music
+ Fun mini-games


Awful controls
Poor hit detection
Only four continues

*CHEAT CODE: At menu screen, highlight the “HI SCORE” option. Now press and hold right and press the A Button. The game will ask you for a password, so enter DERMA and you’ll be able to select any level in the game.

Written by The Rube

The Rube is co-owner of Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade & Museum in Minneapolis, MN. He is also a Special Effects Artist, Master Chef, and Multiple Threadless Design Winner. Other than writing reviews and doodling, he enjoys watching bad movies, building monster model kits, and collecting games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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