8-Bit Replay – Top Gun: The Second Mission (1989) for NES

With all the hype and hoolpa over Tom Gun: Maverick last year, did everyone somehow forget that Top Gun already had a sequel? Released way back in 1989, Top Gun: The Second Mission continues the adventures of ace fighter pilot Maverick as he blasts enemies out of the sky in 8-bit aerial combat on the NES gaming console.

Again released by developer Konami, The Second Mission is largely a retread of the 1987 Top Gun NES game, with a couple years’ worth of advances in graphics and gameplay. Whether that actually makes it a better game may be up for debate, as some of the changes are needlessly frustrating.

Top Gun: The Second Mission NES (1989) - Carrier Takeoff
Title:Top Gun: The Second Mission
Year of Release: 1989
Publisher: Konami
Gaming Platform: NES

Right off the bat, a little bit of disappointment sets in when the game fails to play any of the iconic Top Gun theme music, replacing it instead with a generic (though adequate) new score. On the plus side, the sequel does feature music over the combat levels themselves, not just the menus. (If you prefer to play with only sound effects like the prior game, an option to turn off the score is available in the setup menu.)

Having gotten used to the controls of the first Top Gun game, I was taken aback to find that The Second Mission messes around with some of the fundamentals. By default, your vertical axis is inverted. Previously, you’d push Down (equivalent to pulling back on a joystick) to climb altitude and push Up to dive, which felt intuitive for a flight simulator. This one does the opposite. Thankfully, you can change that in the menu, but you need to remember to do so every time you start a new game.

The fire controls are also different. Instead of using separate buttons for machine guns and missiles, here they’ve been consolidated into the B button. Hold down for unlimited machine gun fire, or tap it for missiles. This takes some getting used to.

The graphics in this outing are noticeably more detailed, but keep your expectations in check. This is still an 8-bit game. The way the landscape scrolls below you in horizontal stripes looks pretty primitive. At the very least, the graphics provide some sense of speed and movement this time, as opposed to the basically immobile cloud horizon we got previously.

Top Gun: The Second Mission NES (1989) - Dogfighting

Your flight controls are a lot more responsive and less sluggish, but also far more jittery. Even the slightest tap will cause your targeting reticle to jump way to the side, which makes aiming at enemy planes and ships very difficult. Altitude doesn’t seem to factor into the gameplay at all. The cockpit doesn’t even bother to provide an altimeter, and no amount of climbing or diving will actually change your height from the ground once you level off. In fact, you can aim your plane straight down toward the ground and never crash.

That said, the sequel incorporates a cool rolling maneuver that sometimes helps with dodging enemy fire. “Sometimes” is the operative word, though. At other times, missiles will blow you out of the sky despite looking like they haven’t come anywhere close to you, and your flight controls have a nasty habit of locking up for no reason, as if purposefully designed to make certain parts of levels impossible.

As with the first game, you’re given three lives and no option to continue where you left off. If you lose a life before hitting the mid-point of the stage, you’ll have to start over at the beginning. At least on the first mission, the mid-point is designated by a one-on-one dogfight with an enemy fighter. If you can get past that checkpoint, you’ll pick up from there the next time you die – assuming you have another life left, of course.

Top Gun: The Second Mission NES (1989) - Submarine

According to my internet research (i.e. a quick Googling), the famous “Komani Code” does work with The Second Mission by giving you extra lives for every 20,000 points you hit. Unfortunately, enemy targets are worth so few points that getting as far as 20,000 is damned difficult, and you won’t even find out your tally until you die anyway.

I found the first Top Gun game incredibly difficult, and that applies just as much to The Second Mission, if not even more so. To be honest, in the several dozen times I played it before writing this article, I only managed to get past the first stage twice, only to immediately die right at the start of the second level both times. No surprise, that was also my last life in both instances.

That difficulty may be frustrating, but I don’t hate the game. I can foresee myself coming back to it at some point down the road. For now, however, I think I need some time away from it for a little while.

Top Gun: The Second Mission NES (1989) - Box Art


2 thoughts on “8-Bit Replay – Top Gun: The Second Mission (1989) for NES

  1. Sounds like it was ahead of its time if it defaulted to non-inverted Y-axis. My millennial can’t understand how I can play a game with inverted look. I can’t understand how anyone can play without.
    I actually just picked up a copy of the first NES Top Gun game a few months ago; I think it was five bucks. I got a copy of NES Airwolf too. I had both when I was younger. I thought they sucked then and they still suck now. Nostalgia value is priceless, though.
    The first NES Top Gun was mostly boring and the difficulty ramped up so quickly that I never got past the first few levels. And I probably paid $30 in 1987 dollars for the game. I also bought a flight stick-style controller just for that game. That was my first inkling that digital inputs were just not sufficient for certain games. But I felt like Pete Maverick for the first couple minutes until I got shot down.
    The only other thing I remember about the game was that it showed you landing on the carrier at the bow. Guess the programmers never saw the movie. Or any film showing a carrier landing.
    In the sequel is there still only one way to get a bandit off your tail (slide left, then slide right)?


    1. As far as I’ve gotten in the sequel, there aren’t any parts where enemy planes come up on your tail and force you to shake them. This one replaces that with one-on-one dogfighting checkpoints. That mostly entails you and one enemy plane circling around one another until you’re lucky enough to get a clean shot. If I act quickly, I can sometimes nail him right away and be done with it, but most times it takes a couple minutes of swinging back in forth in big circles to even find the guy. And sometimes they blow me out of the air before I can even see where the shot is coming from.

      I definitely agree with you about the difficulty ramping up too quickly. I still haven’t gotten past the second level on either game yet.


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