Right, let's get this dealt with from the start; S.C.A.T is an awful name for a game — we won't go into why here, but it actually stands for Special Cybernetic Attack Team. Interestingly, the cart shipped in Europe as Action in New York. That's a much better title, although the game has as much to do with the Big Apple as mushy peas and chips.

Daft moniker aside, Natsume's side-scrolling shooter is a riot, but like most of the studio's output it comes with a wicked difficulty curve that demands unblinking attention to enemy and bullet movements. Ease your focus for just a second and you could be fast-tracked to the game over screen.

The plot sees Earth invaded by an alien force and it's up to the Attack Team to see them packing. It's pretty standard invasion fare that lacks narrative drive, but you'll be too engrossed in wasting wave after wave of incoming ships and other nasties to care. Plus, this game is an absolute riot in two-player mode, and the presence of a second person eases the challenge somewhat.

What makes this blaster stand out from the pack is that you're not in control of a ship, but a jetpack-toting soldier wielding a big cannon, and accompanied by two hovering attack drones. By tapping A you can swivel the drones in a 360-degree arc, enabling you to fire behind yourself, diagonally or up and down at the same time.

This is an example of incredibly smart design. Where most early shooters have you firing in straight lines, S.C.A.T gives you a tactical control mechanic that is genuinely put to good use. For example, a section of stage one sees your grunt gliding down the side of a mangled skyscraper, and set upon by foes and turrets from below and the rear.

Swivel the drones downward and you can turn to face the turrets at your back without worrying about the rising threats from beneath. Similarly, claustrophobic indoor sections are gruelling and really put your mastery of the drone swivel to good use – including a few sections with mortars on the ceiling and ground which require well-positioned diagonal fire to pass.

Without over-hyping the game, the drones are an inspired mechanic indeed, and are life-savers during its many epic boss battles. Natsume was skilled at creating epic end of stage showdowns, so you can expect to face off against a suite of giant tanks that spit ceaseless waves of fiery death, intimidating warships that have more guns than every Call of Duty combined, as well as fearsome laser arrays.

These fights are brutal at first – but like the bosses in many of the studio's titles they are easily defeated once you get their patterns down. We say 'easily,' but you will still die and be hurled back to the start of the stage many times before you topple each of these behemoths. In true Natsume fashion, death is punishing and once you complete a stage this game don't even have the decency to top up your health. It's a real lesson in pain.

But stick with it and you will experience a superb sense of satisfaction whenever you see a boss erupt in flames, or when you clear a tricky section that was causing you no end of grief. Stage four's bouncing lighting turrets are a particular source of frustration, and there's even a level mostly set around a giant battle cruiser that just refuses to die.

Luckily for you, there are various weapon types to be picked up from floating care packages. There's a straight shot bomb attack, horizontal lasers and a really neat wave attack that expands as it travels. The latter is superb for clearing broad groups of enemies or catching deviously-placed foes without having to use the drone swivel. Your attacks are chunky, as are the resulting explosions. Lovely stuff.

For a NES title we were pleasantly surprised to see so many bullets and enemies on screen at once. It seems that Natsume achieved this by toning down the detail and in some stages eliminating backdrop altogether, but it's still an impressive feat to have so much action going on without a hint of slowdown.

There are a few minor criticisms that come from the game's tech, however. Bullets and enemies will only occasionally flicker and disappear for a moment – if your tracking skills are good you will know to move out of the way regardless, but others might not be so lucky. It's natural you will feel cheated if you die because of this, and there are also moments where enemies scream onto the screen without warning, killing you instantly. It's a tad cheap.

Conclusion

These gripes aside there isn't too much we can say to criticise S.C.A.T – there's a sentence we never thought we'd write. The challenge is high, the stage design is clever, the bosses are real events and those swivel drones are a masterstroke. Chuck in some fast-paced action and energetic music and you have yourself a solid bullet hell shooter on a system that really shouldn't be capable of just so much action (in New York).