Game Corner: Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike (Mega Drive)

Released: 16 December 1993
Developer: High Score Productions
Also Available For: Amiga, MS-DOS, Game Gear, Game Boy, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), PlayStation Portable

The Background:
Following the end of the the Gulf War, Mike Posehn expanded upon the air rescue mechanics of Choplifter (Dan Gorlin, 1982) to create Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, a nonlinear, mission-based military title that took place in a sandbox environment and eschewed typical videogame mechanics like bosses and power-ups. Following that game’s success, producer Scott Berfield, game director John Manley, and associate producer Tony Barnes were tasked with creating the sequel, which retained the core mechanics of its predecessor alongside new locations and vehicles. The developers struggled to decode the graphics files and ensure that each version of the game ran smoothly, which was made much simpler thanks to Stuart Johnson’s map editor. Like its predecessor, Jungle Strike was well received upon release; the game has been praised for improving upon almost every aspect of the original, though the difficulty curve was again noted as a concern. Regardless, Jungle Strike his generally regarded as one of the top Mega Drive games of all time and was followed by a third entry on the same system in 1994 and two more titles across the next generation of home consoles.

The Plot:
General Kilbaba is dead but his son (…also named Kilbaba…) swears revenge against the United States of America for interfering in his father’s dreams of world domination. He teams up with notorious drug lord Carlos Ortega and establishes himself in South America, necessitating military intervention using a variety of well-armed vehicles.

Just like the first game, Jungle Strike is an isometric action shooter in which you’re placed at the controls of a specialised Comanche helicopter and tasked with completing a variety of mission objectives, now across nine campaigns and taking place in a number of locations and maps rather than just out in the desert. Also as before, your Comanche has three types of weapons: a chain gun, rapid-fire Hydra missiles, and slow but powerful Hellfire missiles. You can change up the default buttons for these weapons and I absolutely recommend that you do since you don’t want to waste your more powerful rockets and, like last time, ammo and other resources are quite limited. You can choose between controlling “With Momentum” for a more realistic experience or “No Momentum” to make stopping easier, and can again pick between a number of different co-pilots, each with different strengths (some are better with the winch, which automatically picks up resources and people, while others are better shots), though the very best co-pilot is listed as missing in action (as are others) and needs to be rescued in a later mission. You also begin from the first campaign and are awarded a ridiculously long password after clearing each one so you can skip ahead. So far, so familiar.

In addition to the Comanche, there are new vehicles to control here, each with their own pros and cons.

Where the game differs, however, is not just in the variety of its locations but also in the new vehicles available to you; three additional vehicles can be found in three specific missions, with each controlling a little differently and offering new ways to traverse the maps and engage with the enemy. The first new vehicle is a hovercraft that can drop mines in the water and help you sink boats and submarines; it’s pretty decent to control, though the isometric angle can make it tricky to manoeuvre under bridges. Campaign five has you hop on a motorcycle, which is the only way of destroying the armoured trucks rolling around the map; small and spritely, the motorcycle can be a little difficult to control and isn’t really built for combat and feels a bit clunky. Finally, on the eighth campaign, you’ll uncover and control a stealth bomber; this thing is constantly moving, and your up and down inputs will cause it to descend and ascend, respectively. It has unlimited fuel and ammo, which is great for laying waste to targets, but it’s incredibly fragile, very difficult to manoeuvre (especially in tight corners), and you’re forced to both respawn at the landing strip where you first found it when downed and to successfully land it once your missions are complete. You get three lives to complete each campaign and, when they’re all lost, you have to start all over again with no checkpoints (though you can, very rarely find extra lives in the campaigns now). Pausing the game allows you to view a map of your current location and cycle through different points of interest, as well as review your mission objectives and status, which is super handy for when you want to plot an optimal route to pick up some supplies and take out some targets on the way to a certain objective. Your vehicle’s fuel, armour, and ammo are also all displayed here; you start with 100 units of fuel and 1000 units of armour, and will have your fuel replenished to 25 or 100 depending on how you’re shot down (if you’re shot down because of damaged, you won’t get full fuel, basically) but your ammo is extremely finite and can only be restored using ammo crates.

Many missions carry over from the first game and have you destroying or picking up targets.

You can also only carry six passengers at a time, so be sure to keep an eye on your current load and drop some off at a landing zone if need be, however it should be noted that you don’t need to rescue every prisoner of war (P.O.W.) or innocent you come across, nor do you have to engage with every enemy you see, either. In fact, since supplies can be so hard to come by, it’s actually advisable that you don’t waste resources destroying every enemy; indeed, I found a useful tactic was to position myself in such a way that enemies either couldn’t see and shoot at me or that caused their projectiles to attack and destroy buildings or other targets. As before, it’s generally advised to you complete missions in order and you usually have to do this as some campaigns only tell you what your other missions are once you’ve completed the ones available to you. In this regard, Jungle Strike is, like its predecessor, made to encourage multiple playthroughs; once you know where targets are and what your missions are, you can plan an optimal route, destroying targets like underground bunkers, power plants, and terrorist training grounds, rescuing agents, P.O.W. or capturing bad guys, and eliminating moving targets that are either difficult to trace, only show up with the right intel, or don’t show up at all. More than once, you’ll be tasked with protecting a Presidential escort (a limo in the first campaign and Air Force One in the last) from reprisals, which is quite fun; you’ll also need to find and sink nuclear submarines and stop the bad guys getting away with plutonium, destroy power transformer towers and uncover hidden nuclear chambers in the snowy wastes of campaign six, and rain fire on drug plantations and rocky outgrowths to uncover Tomahawk missiles. While many of Jungle Strike’s mission objectives aren’t much different to what we saw in Desert Strike, the variety is appreciated; sometimes you need to destroy up to thirteen different targets, often strewn all over the map, while others you don’t need to destroy or rescue everything and everyone, though you have to be careful to not be too trigger-happy and destroy vital targets as this’ll cause a complete mission failure. On the plus side, though, there’s rarely any timed tasks; you need to destroy four eighteen-wheelers carrying nuclear missions in the last campaign, and first capture and then eliminate the two antagonists before they can escape, but these come near the end of the game for an added challenge rather than being scattered throughout other campaigns.

Graphics and Sound:  
Graphically, not too much has changed or improved since Desert Strike beyond the title screen, which now uses a polygonal sprite for the Comanche, but the overall presentation of the game is vastly improved. Sprites, models, and environments are all very similar, with the same sound effects and use of text to convey mission completion, failure, the game’s story, and when you’re in a danger zone or running low on fuel or armour, but the maps are so much better this time around. Before, you just flew around the same area with a slight palette swap and some different structures here and there, with the most variety appearing in the final mission, but you instantly see how much more varied Jungle Strike is from the very first campaign, which sees you flying around an ambitious isometric recreation of Washington, D.C., complete with fully destructible White House and various other monuments (which also need protecting from enemy forces).

The graphics are much of the same, but overhauled and bolstered by a new vehicles and environments.

This carries through to the game’s other locations as well, which include an expanse of water with tiny islands dotted about and a large bridge running across it, and a couple of trips to the titular jungle (one at night, with low visibility, where explosions and gunfire light up the environment and two others in the day time, where rocky mountainsides, pyramid-like structures, and stone columns are plentiful). You’ll also fly through the frozen Soviet wastes and revisit the desert, both of which add to the visual variety of the game, and the pause menu and user interface have both been given a complete overhaul. Sadly, there’s still no in-game music, which can really make gameplay very monotonous, and it’s a shame as the title screen and story cutscenes are punctuated by some rocking tunes. These cutscenes are again made up of larger sprites and artwork, with some notable animation frames, but they do the job, as does the dialogue text; it’s fun seeing the Mad Man’s tanker truck explode in a blazing inferno and seeing your Comanche come in for a landing or launch a missile strike or your pilot character interrogate enemy agents helps to break up the gameplay a bit. It’s the 2.5D sprite work that steals the show, though; while the isometric perspective can make it a little difficult judge your precision and you can bonce off of buildings and rocks if you’re not careful, there’s a certain appeal to it and I always get a sense of satisfaction in seeing my missiles leave another enemy stronghold a flaming mess.

Enemies and Bosses:
While many of the enemy troops are functionally similar to the ones seen in Desert Strike, there’s been a few changes here; enemy soldiers still fire their guns and rockets at you, often masked by the foliage and environment, but you’ll also find seemingly innocuous civilian vehicles have been repurpose to either ferry bombs or fire at you and other targets. Guard towers, Gatling guns, and anti-aircraft placements are commonplace enemy targets, as are the smaller tanks and armour vehicles which patrol near to your mission objectives and fire bullets and missiles at you. You’ll also have to deal with a few more instances of gun boats and enemy helicopters, with these latter being able to be destroyed before they can take off, and stationary missile launchers which don’t pose a threat to you but are often heavily guarded. Thankfully, as mentioned, you can often strafe or position yourself in a way to avoid being damaged or have the enemy blast open jails and enemy stronghold son your behalf but be careful: destroyed buildings and targets are often as likely to hide an enemy unit as they are your object or some much-needed ammo. One of your more persistent and formidable enemies will be the Sheridan tanks and slow-moving mobile cannons, which can bring you down in just a few shots, and your own trigger finger; be sure to not just blast away at your targets in case you accidentally gun down someone you’re supposed to capture or destroy a nuclear warhead you’re meant to retrieve.

In place of traditional bosses, you’ll need to shoot down and destroy heavily armoured key targets.

As before, the game doesn’t really include any traditional boss battles, but there are a few instances that could be said to count for them. In the second campaign, for example, you need to use your hovercraft’s mines and rockets to destroy some heavily armoured nuclear submarines (though actually placing said mine, and avoiding their rockets, is easier said than done, especially as their sprite tends to vanish if you’re too far away). In campaign five, you need to flush out five armoured cars that can only be destroyed with the motorcycle’s mines, and you’ll also be tasked with defending your co-pilot as he sets explosives in the war room in this campaign but, as no heavy artillery appears, it’s not so difficult. In campaign eight, you need to blow up these stone pyramids and destroy the nuclear warheads, detonators, and scientists within, which can be tricky as they’re well-guarded and the stealth bomber is clumsy to move around without crashing, but you’ll also need to blow a hole in the Drug Lord’s fortified bunker, then land so your co-pilot can drive a drunk into it for you to explode, and then shoot down his escape chopper and pick him up for due processing. The most annoying campaign is the ninth and final one, which has you frantically flying all over Washington for thirteen enemy vehicles and then destroying a bus and a fuel tanker with the Drug Lord and Mad Man on, respectively, before safeguarding the White House once more. It’s not exactly difficult to take these out, as long as you’re smart about your ammo and supplies, but actually locating most of these targets is nigh-on impossible as they don’t appear on the map.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in the first game, you can fly over ammo crates, fuel tanks, and armour to restore each to full capacity. On many of the maps this time around, though, these resources are hidden behind pyramids, buildings, vehicles, and other destructible targets, meaning they don’t always appear on your map screen and you often have to waste ammo to resupply something else. Occasionally, you’ll be able to pick up an extra life and a quick winch, which speeds up your winch motion, and it’s beneficial to try and rescue the M.I.A. co-pilots, such as Wild Bill, as it can dramatically increase your accuracy, fire rate, and winch speed.

Additional Features:
There’s not really much on offer here; Jungle Strike’s additional content is all contained within the gameplay, and there are no other difficulty settings, multiplayer options, or game modifiers to speak of. You can find passwords online, however, that let you not only skip to later campaigns but also award you twenty-three lives (more than enough to finish every campaign in the game since the count resets to twenty-three at the start of each new campaign). Otherwise, your main objective for replaying the game (beyond it being fun) is to try and accumulate a higher score; there isn’t a scoreboard, however, so you’ll just have to note these down yourself.

The Summary:
I played both Desert Strike and Jungle Strike quite a bit as a kid, either on the Amiga or after borrowing them from friends. Although I struggled with Desert Strike and could barely finish the first campaign in that game, Jungle Strike was much easier and more forgiving for me to play through; everything that was so appealing in the first game is still here, but the added variety in the campaign maps, enemy units, and available vehicles makes it vastly superior in every way. While I was disappointed that the other vehicles weren’t available in my campaigns (and they probably could’ve been), they made those campaigns even more memorable, and I can understand their limited usage since their controls and weapons were a bit clunky and there were plenty of drawbacks to even the most powerful jets. Mission objectives are immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the last game, but they’re pretty fun to tackle, with only a handful being tedious and forcing you to search all over or destroy multiple targets. Managing your fuel and ammo is key to succeeding at Jungle Strike, which means you’ll either need a guide to plan an optimal route or use a bit of trial and error to figure out the best ways to go to take out a few targets, pick up some resources, and drop off any passengers. While it’s still disappointing that there’s no in-game music, the sheer visual variety on offer more than makes up for it; just getting away from the dreary desert makes Jungle Strike instantly better than the original and I really enjoyed all the destructible objects, recognisable landmarks, and little touches like cows and desert springs being scattered across the map. Overall, I would say I much preferred Jungle Strike as it was far more accessible and rewarding to play since I was actually complete and experience the entire game this time around, so I would absolutely recommend this one over the original for all the improvements it makes to the formula.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike? How do you think it compares to the first game, and it successors? Which of the new vehicles was your favourite? Did you like that the game featured more diverse environments? Which of the campaigns and missions was your favourite, or the hardest for you to complete? Whatever your thoughts on Jungle Strike, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check in next Saturday for my thoughts on the third game in the series.

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