Retro games are a hot commodity. With the Xbox Live Arcade and Wii’s Virtual Console, it’s quickly becoming a prolific segment of the industry. Blogcritics is going to start looking at gaming’s generally under-appreciated past in a different way.
Teaming up with classic gaming database Digital Press, Blogcritics will be presenting some lost or under-appreciated classics in short reviews. Extras may include odd facts, the title’s impact on the industry, some personal retrospective, different ports the game may have received, and how well they hold up on today’s market. Our hope would be to introduce a new generation of gamers, or even those who recently purchased a game console for the first time to those games they missed and the legacy they left behind.
Irem’s M92 arcade hardware is a vastly underrated piece of gaming history. It housed 12 games total, and there’s barely a dud in the batch. There’s a particular lost and ignored classic buried here, though; one that somehow slipped through unnoticed during the final days of the arcade. Gunforce II is that title.
A 1994 release, Gunforce II is simply one of the greatest action games ever produced. Yes, better than Metal Slug, both in that it hit two years earlier and actually manages to outdo the perennial SNK trademark in nearly every category. One or two players take hold of the generic action hero, blasting their way through multiple levels of sheer insanity well past what the hardware can handle.
The hook is that the player holds two guns. They fire a full 360 degrees when called on, and only one can take advantage of the power-ups. It’s awkward at first, and late in the game when the difficulty takes off, it’s going to cause more than few cheap deaths. However, the advantages elsewhere in the game far outweigh those few extra quarters.
Digital Press’s review describes this better than anywhere else on the ‘net:
“If something isn't dying or exploding every 10 seconds, you're not doing something right.”
Prior to this, there was never a game to feature this sheer level of destruction. It was simply unparalled. In fact, in terms of 2-D titles, it still stands out. The level of animation is completely off the charts, adding extra pop to the explosions and environments. Who cares if the backdrop is a generic alien invasion? Michael Bay would have trouble finding room for this many explosives in his latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Facts and Notables
The M92 has a very distinct visual style - gritty by default yet able to produce stunning color and shading. The highlights of the hardware include submarine shooter Into the Hunt and another lost gem, Undercover Cops, a beat-em-up.
Where’s the first Gunforce? It was a sluggish 1991 release, amazingly for the same arcade chipset as its sequel. It would find a home on the Super NES, though in an unplayable, slowdown riddled port. Gunforce II never found a place in gamer’s home unless they paid for the full cabinet.
The title is called Geostorm in Japan.
How much did Metal Slug borrow? A lot. Rescuing hostages for end level bonuses, alien invasion on a mass scale, airplane shooter segment, vehicles, weapon styles, vivid animation and a keen eye for over-the-top action.
I fully admit that I’m part of the crowd that missed this one in the arcades. Had a buddy and me not been going through the list of titles in the arcade emulator MAME one Sunday, I likely never would have noticed it.
I had played the ugly Super NES port of the original, which, of course, left a sour taste in my mouth. We ran through the first level and gave up when it came up in MAME. In fact, we almost skipped Gunforce II as well. Since quite a bit of what were playing was junk anyway, we figured this might as well get a chance.
It got a lot more than that. We played through it twice in back-to-back sessions, partly out of stunned silence as to what we had just witnessed, and secondly because we wanted to see if we missed anything behind the massive walls of debris and explosions. Keep in mind this is a shooter with barely any auto-fire to speak of, and this probably was the first sign that carpal tunnel will be a serious issue in a few years.
Sure, we love Metal Slug. For what it does, it’s magnificent. It has the edge of Gunforce II in terms of character and the variety in the animations. However, Irem’s stunner is unmatched in terms of pure visceral thrills.
It’s hard to imagine any home console of the day handling this effort. The 16-bit era was still going strong, and the PlayStation and Saturn needed more time for developers to become accustomed to the hardware. Gunforce II simply hit at the wrong time. In the Hunt would land on both pieces of the latter hardware, while Undercover Cops was watered down for a non-US release on the Super NES.
As such, the only way you can take on Gunforce II, assuming you’re a poor gamer given your hobby choice, is via emulation. Unless you’re completely against the MAME project and would never dream of becoming involved, Gunforce II is reason enough to download the software. It’s truly that special.
Images and review courtesy of Digital Press.