Ai Senshi Nicoru ('Love Warrior Nicol') is a Japanese game that was released by Konami in 1987 for the Famicom Disk System, and which, obviously, never came out anywhere else. That's quite a shame, as Nicol is a very enjoyable game in the classic Konami mould.
The story is typical: Nicol and his girlfriend Stella are trying out their futuristic blue bodysuits one evening, when along comes a flying alien who steals Stella for the secret to her magenta hairdo. Nicol is so distraught, he screams "Oh! My God." in a typical Japanese hero fashion, and jumps to his death off a bridge. Some other guy, coincidentally also named Nicol, must now travel across varied landscapes to save the late Nicol's girlfriend from a fate worse than death.
The gameplay in Nicol is straightforward action similar to the maze levels in The Guardian Legend or Blaster Master. There are seven levels which range from forests to water to outer space. Nicol can destroy enemies to gain health, but all other power-ups are either spread out over the level, or are hidden under obstacles or invisible tiles. The objective for each level is to collect three diamonds so that Nicol can blast off in his space cruiser to go onward to the next level. But guarding each diamond is a boss creature which he must first kill.
Each level is laid out as a sprawling map, but there is generally a linear way of completing the level. The player probably won't get lost. Along the way, Nicol will have to manoeuver around holes in the ground, for if he falls in the hole, he'll land in a dungeon. Oftentimes the lava in the dungeon hurts Nicol unless he's wearing his astro pants (hey, I didn't make this stuff up!) It is a good idea to take a trip to the dungeon at least once in each level, to pick up power-ups and to search for hidden items.
Did I mention hidden items? Well, all throughout the level, there are hidden power-ups, and Nicol just has to shoot all over with his gun to uncover them. A real trick that this game plays is that the most important power-ups which add a "heart container" to your life or which upgrade your gun's strength are almost all hidden in totally inconspicuous places. There is usually a major power-up like this every second level. These power-ups can even be found in dungeons, or right at the very, very end of a level (see screenshot). Nicol will simply have to scour every screen on the map with his gun.
The weapon that Nicol has at his disposal is a standard space-shooter, but it can be upgraded a few levels. Apart from that, he also has "cosmo balls" (I guess that's from being out in space for too long) that he can use by pressing the "select" button. These do damage to all enemies on-screen. Useful, but Nicol has a limited supply of them. It's a good idea to conserve all the cosmo balls that one has until Nicol reaches a very tough boss creature in the later levels, or conserve them all for the very last boss creature who can be very difficult.
In addition to those weapons, Nicol has some hip threads that protect him. Astro Wear absorbs some of Nicol's damage, Power Shoes help Nicol jump farther and run faster, and Astro Pants protect Nicol from the searing lava in some dungeons. Collect them all and be a hep space dude too!
All in all, Nicol is a great game that should have come out in the rest of the world. It sports bright, cartoony graphics; some fab, hummable tunes; and a generous difficulty curve. Petition Konami to bring out "Ai Senshi Nicoru 64" NOW!!