8-Bit Replay – Top Gun (1987) for NES

By the end of 1987, Top Gun had already been a blockbuster hit in theaters the year before and a bestseller on videocassette that spring. Any self-respecting 13-year-old had already watched it a bunch of times, to the point of wearing out the tape replaying the aerial combat scenes over and over again. With no sequel yet in sight, what better way could there be to relive that Top Gun excitement than to play the official NES video game adaptation?

Step 1: Pull the cartridge out of its sleeve. Step 2: Blow a puff of air into the bottom to dislodge any dust that settled on the contacts. Step 3: Insert it into the console. Step 4: Listen to an 8-bit rendition of the iconic theme music play over the start menu as your anticipation builds. Step 5: Prepare for awesomeness!

Top Gun NES (1987) - Dogfighting
Title:Top Gun
Year of Release: 1987
Publisher: Konami
Gaming Platform: NES

To set some realistic expectations here, the Top Gun NES game does not attempt to adapt the whole movie, or even any of the plot at all. It has no motorcycle riding or beach volleyball levels. No 8-bit depiction of Tom Cruise ever appears on screen. The game is strictly a flight simulator, and a pretty simplistic one at that. Over the course of four missions, you’ll launch from an aircraft carrier, then fight off enemy planes, ships, submarines, and other targets. Your weapons are a machine gun with unlimited bullets and a fixed number of missiles, ranging from ten to forty depending on which type you choose. The bigger and more powerful the missile, the fewer you get.

The entire game is depicted in first-person P.O.V. The top half of the screen is the window view with targeting reticle, while the bottom half displays your cockpit dashboard with important information such as your altitude, speed, missile count, and a radar to track enemies. Once a level begins, no music plays, just sound effects.

The graphics are pretty basic, to the point of being boring.Your plane also has limited maneuvering ability, which makes dodging incoming fire difficult. During combat, your altitude is mostly meaningless, as your view hardly changes and it’s not possible to fly below the 500-ft. flight deck, which means that crashing isn’t a concern – at least, not until the mission is over.

Top Gun NES (1987) - Carrier Landing

At the end of every mission, you must return to the aircraft carrier. Landing properly is tricky and one of the most difficult parts of the game. I failed at it and crashed a great many times before finally (mostly) mastering that skill.

Starting with the second mission, you’ll need a mid-air refueling stop halfway through the level. This is also frustrating. Sometimes it goes very smoothly and is no problem at all. Other times, it’s virtually impossible. For seemingly no reason, the fuel hose will refuse to connect, and the on-screen directions are a mass of confusing contradictions: “LEFT! LEFT! RIGHT! UP! DOWN! SLOW DOWN! SPEED UP! SLOW DOWN!” When it gets like that, you’re screwed no matter what you do. Without refueling (which somehow also magically refills your missiles, conveniently), you’ll run out of fuel and crash before the end of the level.

You’re given a total of three lives in the game, with no option to continue from the same mission if you fail. Sadly, even though it was released by Konami, the famous “Komani Code” doesn’t appear to work on this particular game.

Gameplay is both straightforward and also very challenging. I can get through the first mission pretty easily without firing a missile, using just the machine gun. However, in recent replays, I have yet to make it past the second mission. Either I miss the refueling or I get shot down before the final target. I had to resort to watching walkthrough videos on YouTube to refresh my memory on what happens after that.

Even with that being the case, I still find the game enjoyable. Unlike some other NES titles that are just infuriatingly difficult and force me to quit in exhaustion without ever completing them, I can see myself coming back to this one in the future to give it another shot.

Top Gun NES (1987) - Box Art


2 thoughts on “8-Bit Replay – Top Gun (1987) for NES

  1. I had no memory of this game until you mentioned he landing part. I remember constantly crashing. I think I used to have some kind of joystick that I played this game with. Do you use that or the standard controls? I feel like the joystick would feel more aircraft like.


    1. I have an NES Classic Mini and just use the controller that came with that. I don’t have any fancy peripherals.

      Back in the day, I had a controller called “NES MAX” that added “Turbo” buttons you could hold down for rapid-fire rather than having to repeatedly mash the A and B buttons. I miss that.


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