Hi no Tori: Gaou no Bouken is a NES adaptation of the manga "Hi no Tori" (lit: "Fire Bird", or Phoenix) by legendary manga creator Osamu Tezuka. The protagonist, Gaou, is a gifted sculptor that uses his skills to progress through each of the sixteen stages of the game. The goal is to collect all sixteen engravings, one per level, to complete a large depiction of the eponymous Phoenix. Doing so will summon the Phoenix and complete the game.
Hi no Tori is unusual in that the protagonist has a finite number of "gargoyle blocks", which can be placed and used as platforms to get over long gaps or reach high ledges. They're also handy in a defensive capacity, as they will block enemy movements and allow Gaou to reach bosses. Every defeated enemy drops a gargoyle block, though these loose blocks will slide across the ground and solidify upon hitting a wall if Gaou doesn't reach them in time.
Gaou's movement controlled with the D-pad, with the A button as jump. The B button will send out a chisel in the direction Gaou is pointing (they can also be fired upwards if up is held down on the D-pad). If Gaou is ducking when the B button is pressed, or if the D-pad is pressed downwards, he will instead place a gargoyle block at his feet. The Start button pauses the game and the Select button will instantly kill Gaou: This "self-destruct" can be necessary if Gaou finds himself trapped behind solid wall.
The game is also unusual in its level structure: After completing a stage, Gaou moves onto the next one in that era. After completing all the stages in an era, Gaou will move back to the first. Only by finding secret warp doors behind breakable bricks (which can be broken either with Gaou's chisels or by jumping on the spot a few times) can Gaou access the rest of the game.
The game is split into sixteen stages, which are as follows:
- Stages 1-7 Yamato Period (Feudal era Japan).
- Stages 1-3 Prehistoric era.
- Stages 1-5 Future era.
- Stage 8 Yamato Period.
Stage 8 is special as it can only be accessed via a warp door, rather than through natural circulation after completing the other seven stages of the Yamato period. One such warp door can be found in Prehistoric Stage 3. Each stage has its own array of enemies and obstacles; for instance Prehistoric 3 is an example of the "ice stage" trope.
Gaou can also acquire items if he can hit the treasure chests. If a treasure chest falls below waist-height, it is unattainable, so care must be taken that Gaou can hit it before it gets too low down the screen.
- Pouch - A common item that simply boosts score.
- Onigiri - A rice ball that will recover all of Gaou's health.
- Gargoyle block - One of Gaou's blocks. Will restock his supply by ten.
- Phoenix down - Affords Gaou temporary invincibility.
- Magatama necklace - A charm that will freeze all enemies for a while.
- Shell - Grants Gaou an extra unit to his health bar, but doesn't actually recover any health.
- Mirror - The mirror allows Gaou to turn transparent, making him immune to enemies and allowing him to travel through solid ground.
- Prayer beads - Eliminates every enemy on the screen.
- Spike boots - Stops Gaou from sliding on the ice in ice stages.
- Gaou doll - An extra life. Very rare.
About half the stages end in a boss. Those in the Yamato period tend to be creatures from Japanese folk lore, such as the fire wheel demon Buer or the lightning god Raijin. The prehistoric era has one boss in stage 2: A skeletonized dinosaur. The future era has a boss that resembles Giger's Xenomorph and another which is revealed to be a Konami-branded super computer.
The stages that don't end with bosses tend to have some major obstacle, such as falling boulders that destroy the ground. In these cases, the goal is to simply reach the visible engraving as quickly as possible.