Released: 2 August 1991 Developer: SEGA Also Available For: Arcade, GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Mobile, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Sega CD, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
A Brief Background: Back in the mid-nineties, sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups and hack-and-slash adventures could often be found in arcades since they demanded little more from players than to hold right, mash buttons, and continually pump in their hard-earned pocket money. High fantasy was also a popular genre at the time; sword and sorcery settings were a recurring theme in movies, comic books, and action figures, so it made sense for there to be an influx of similarly themed videogames. Titles like Gauntlet (Atari Games, 1985), Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (Palace Software, 1987), and Dungeon Master (FTL Games, 1987) may have led the way but it was the two Conan movies (Milius 1982; Fleisher 1984) that most directly influenced lead designer and producer Makoto Uchida, who sought to create a beat-‘em-up that could stand out from ultra popular genre hitDouble Dragon (Technōs Japan, 1987). Golden Axewas a hit in arcades and became incredibly influential to the beat-‘em-up genre; when it released on the Mega Drive, Golden Axe was one of the system’s premier titles and, while the home version didn’t quite match up to the arcade release, it still did a commendable job of pushing SEGA’s machine as an arcade-quality product. Although Golden Axe led to a number of sequels and spin-offs, and was ported to many other consoles over the years, the series has largely laid dormant; Golden Axe: Beast Rider (Secret Level, 2008) all but killed the franchise with its poor reception, and a 2.5D reboot/remake was ultimately scrapped before it could be properly developed, meaning fans have had to make do with the hack-and-slash games being represented in SEGA’s racing games.
First Impressions: Golden Axe is set in the fictional land of Yuria, a high fantasy medieval world where the evil Death Adder has secured the mythical and titular Golden Axe and captured the King and his daughter, and threatens to destroy them all unless the people of Yuria accept him as their ruler. Players must pick between Ax Battler, Gilius Thunderhead, and Tyris Flare to set out on a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up quest to liberate Yuria and avenge their losses at the hands of Death Adder, with each of them having an added personal grudge against Death Adder and wielding a different weapon. No matter which character you pick, the default controls remain the same: A lets you perform a screen-clearing magic attack, B sees you attack with your weapon, and C lets you jump to avoid attacks and perform a jumping attack. Thankfully, these controls can be customised (I much prefer mapping attack to A and magic to C), and you can also rush ahead and perform a running attack and even limited combos that see you kicking, throwing, and beating down opponents, or press attack and jump together to perform a special twirling strike to quickly hit enemies that are behind you (or a rolling axe attack for Gilius). At first glance, it didn’t seem like there was much difference between which character you pick: Ax Battler was my pick and he seems slow and clunky compared to Gilius and Tyris, with Gilius being shorter and potentially having a smaller hit box as a result and Tyris seeming to have a faster dash attack. During and between stages, little Elves will wander about the screen; blue ones drop Magic Pots and green ones drop a chunk of meat to restore your life bar (though these only seem to appear in the interlude sections). Each character’s magic bar is a different length, and each one performs different elemental magic (Ax Battler’s are earth-based, Gilius’s are lightning, and Tyris’s are fire), with more powerful magic attacks performed when you have more Magic Pots. Unlike many beat-‘em-ups, Golden Axe lacks a time limit, which is a relief, and it also lacks a traditional difficulty system; you can pick between “Arcade” and “Beginner” mode, with the latter cutting the game short at Stage 3 for an easier challenge. In the “Options” menu, you can also increase your life bar, but you’ll be stuck with the default three lives and four credits to last you throughout the game.
While there aren’t any power-ups to pick up, you can knock or throw enemies off the edge of some stages (and the enemy A.I. is dumb enough to walk right off, in some cases) and ride three different beasts that can really help turn the tide: there’s a weird little bird/lizard hybrid known as a “Chicken Leg” that performs a tail swipe and two dragons, a blue one that breathes fire and a red one that spits fireballs. You can jump and perform dash attacks on these creatures, but enemies can also ride them and, if you’re knocked off or don’t get on one fast enough, the beasts will run away. Gameplay is as simple as you could want; dialogue boxes and map screens between stages give you a quick overview of the game’s story, and you’ll occasionally see screaming non-payable characters running past as enemies attack, but your goal is to go from the left side of the screen to the right, taking out enemies and liberating towns and areas from Death Adder’s lieutenants. While enemies are sometimes dumb, they’re smart enough to flank you and can charge at you, perform jump attacks, and you’re basically screwed once they land their first hit; when caught between two or more, it’s frustratingly easy to get constantly beaten and knocked down, which can feel very cheap. The game is pretty slow by default, but runs fairly consistently; there’s only ever about four enemies on screen at once, which helps, and the only time I saw any kind of slowdown was when the game loaded the day to dusk transition that indicates a boss battle or gauntlet. Golden Axe has you travelling to eight different stages, each one sporting some fun and visually interesting details, such as a village being on the back of a giant turtle or eagle, with feathers blowing in the wind, enemies emerging from the ground or behind doors. The game is bolstered by an extremely catchy soundtrack that’s fittingly reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian (Milius, 1982) and everyone gets a little death scream when they’re defeated. Unfortunately, while the sprites and environments are very big and reasonably detailed, they’re also a bit blurry and indistinct and the game can be a bit of a struggle to play; characters plod along, barely able to avoid attacks, and land their blows with a lackadaisical enthusiasm. However, I liked the variety in the stages; you need to jump over broken bridges, hop up steps, and can take the high ground at times, and there’s even some interesting screen transitions between and at the end of stages.
My Progression: I’ve played Golden Axe before; I used to have it on the Amiga, I’ve played it on various compilations, and I believe I’ve finished it before but always with conveniences like cracked cheats or replays and save states. I was thus surprised at how well I was able to progress through the game without any of these aides (apparently, there is a code for extra lives but I couldn’t get it to work). Although you’d never guess it from playing the game, there is a scoring system in place, but you only see it and receive a letter rank upon getting a game over, meaning there’s no way to accumulate more lives to see you through to the end. At the end of each stage, you’ll either face one or more larger boss enemies accompanied by some minions, or a short wave of enemies, and the bigger villains you face will then crop up as regular enemies in subsequent stages. The first boss you face is actually two, the hulking, hammer-wielded Bad Brothers, who stomp around the place swinging their giant warhammers, kicking at you, or charging at you. While their attacks can deal massive damage, it’s not too hard to stay out of reach and spam your running charge or jump attack, though you need to be careful as your running attacks won’t connect if enemies are a little too far to the edge of the screen.
After clearing Death Adder’s minions from Turtle Village and crossing the bridge, you’ll face Lieutenant Bitter, a huge knight in silver armour who makes a nasty habit of slashing you out of the air or charging with his massive sword and bashing you with his shield. Tougher enemies will soon appear to cause you troubles, as indicated by their differing colour palettes, and this includes fighting variants of the Bad Brothers and Lt. Bitter prior to facing Death Adder Jr., who also doubles as the final boss of “Beginner” mode. When I faced him in “Arcade” mode, however, he was the death of me thanks to his massive axe swings and ability to fire a magical bolt across the ground. However, this isn’t necessarily where the game ends; you can play alongside a friend, for example, if player two presses start on the title screen (not the character select screen, as you might expect) but be careful as you can inflict damage on each other in this mode. You can also take on “The Duel”, which pits you against a number of the game’s enemies in a more traditional 2D fighter. Here, you get thirty seconds to defeat your opponent/s and they actually have a health bar (which would’ve been useful against bosses in the main game). Unfortunately, you can’t use your magic here and any damage you take carries over to the next round, though you are again given a class ranking for your efforts and you can also battle a friend in a one-on-one fight using this mode.
There’s no doubt that Golden Axe is a classic arcade and SEGA Mega Drive title; it’s a very visually appealing and enjoyable experience thanks to a pretty basic premise and control scheme, and it can be fun to charge at enemies, sword swinging, and toss them to their doom while humming one of the many catchy tunes. Unfortunately, it’s a very barebones and clunky experience; Tyris and Gilius were a bit faster and more responsive to play as, but the default speed is very slow, control can feel sluggish and lagging, and enemies are far too cheap at times. While the first few stages aren’t too difficult, it’s not long before the game’s arcade roots rear their head and see your health whittled down, your lives exhausted, and face you with that dreaded “Game Over” screen. Unlike many other beat-‘em-ups, especially ones on consoles, there’s hardly any opportunities to refill your health and no way to earn more lives or continues, meaning that the default difficult level is quite high compared to others in its genre. Had it included infinite continues to help balance these issues, this would’ve helped a lot; sure, you can probably finish “Beginner” mode without too much difficulty but that’s not the same as defeating the real Death Adder and his bigger, badder mentor, Death Bringer and getting the game’s true ending. Overall, it’s a fun arcade style beat-‘em-up, one that definitely set a standard for its genre and for the Mega Drive’s promise of offering arcade-style action, but there’s definitely better games of this type out there, even in the Golden Axe series, and some players might find the steep difficulty curve difficult to manage. Still, have you ever beaten Golden Axe? Do you think it’s worth me giving it another go to try and get to the end? Which of the characters or games in the franchise is your favourite? I’d love to hear your memories of Golden Axe, so leave them down below or drop a comment on my social media to share your thoughts on Golden Axe.
Released: 1991 Developer: Core Design Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Archimedes, Commodore 64, Game Gear, Master System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Game Boy, Mega-CD, CD32
A Brief Background: Founded in 1988 by former employees of Gremlin Graphics, Core Design was a Derby-based videogame developer who produced a slew of Amiga titles back in the late-eighties and early-nineties in a variety of genres, from shooters to adventure games and, of course, platformers. Years before taking the gaming world by storm with the voluptuous Lara Croft, Core Design crafted their own slapstick platforming franchise in the form of Chuck Rock, which aimed to standout from the ever-growing number of platform titles by focusing on zany, cartoonish humour and graphics and taking place in prehistoric times. At the time, Chuck Rock was lauded for its colourful graphics, humour, and unique rock-throwing mechanics; while contemporary reviews aren’t quite as forgiving regarding the game’s pace and appeal, it did spawn a sequel and even a spin-off back in the day. For my part, I remember playing the Master System version and have always considered Chuck Rock a must-have game for my Mega Drive library so I was keen to see if it delivered under close scrutiny.
First Impressions: So, as I mentioned, I first played Chuck Rock on the master System; it was one of the first home console games I ever played in that regard, and I’ve longed to add the 16-bit version to my gaming library simply because it’s one of those early Mega Drive titles that I consider synonymous with the system. The game is a pretty straightforward platformer; you’re placed into the Cro-Magnon role of the titular Chuck, an ape-like prehistoric man who can send enemies flying with a thrust of his considerable belly. You perform this “belly butt” by pressing B, though its range is pretty limited and some enemies move quite quickly or erratically, meaning you often take a hit when using it. Thankfully, Chuck can also jump with C; it’s not especially high, just like Chuck isn’t especially fast or nimble, but you can perform a mid-air kick by pressing B in the air. Oddly, the A button does absolutely nothing and there are not options to switch around the controls, which means you have to press down and B to pick up rocks; these can be flung as projectiles or held overhead to protect from enemy bombardments but are primarily used to help you reach higher ledges and areas or safely cross thorny obstacles and acid/lava pits. Chuck can also swim, in the loosest sense of the word; he kind of flails about when underwater, with his offense limited to his kick and the toss of a rock.
The game is comprised of five levels, each with three to five “Zones” in each; this is an elaborate way of saying five levels with three to five screens as, when you reach the end of a Zone, you spawn in a new area and continue on to the right as normally. There’s a strong emphasis on platforming and exploration is often awarded with a cache of goodies to increase your score and bring you closer to the 100,000 points needed for an extra life or hearts to refill your health. Chuck can take quite a bit of damage, but there’s very little invincibility frames so it’s easy to get spam-hurt to death from hazards; he’ll also drown if you stay underwater too long, as helpfully indicated by his face on the heads-up display turning blue when submerged, though thankfully there’s no arbitrary time limit to complete the stages. While a variety of dinosaurs and cavemen will dog your progress, some will actually help you; you can use bat-like Pteranodons to cross gaps and you can cross acid and lava pits on the backs of Brachiosaurus’and water on whales. Your only real in-game options are to turn the music and sound effects off, but you should leave both on as Chuck’s battle cry of “Unga-Bunga!” is quite adorable and the game is bolstered by a catchy soundtrack that works well with the cartoonish visuals. Unfortunately, the game is pretty slow going; Chuck has a weight to him that makes avoiding enemies or precision platforming difficult to nigh-on frustrating, and your progress is restricted not just by a paltry three lives but also limited continues and no password or push-button codes to help you get further into the game.
My Progression: My memories of the Master system version of the game are limited but I know I never finished it, and I don’t recall getting much further past the first boss. When I fired up Chuck Rock, I was ready for a fun, quirky little platformer and was sure that the thirty-odd years of experience would serve me well. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the game having limited continues; this is a trope of this era of gaming that never fails to irk me, and I don’t really understand the logic behind it, but it absolutely derailed my progress. Things started off pretty well; I made it through the jungle stage marvelling at the detailed backgrounds and the fun use of foreground elements and using rocks to protect myself from thorns, boulders, and toss at crocodiles to spring myself up to higher levels. As I progressed into the cave level, I was happy to see the pick-ups change with each stage, with meat featuring in the first stage, root vegetables in the second, and starfish and the like in the third. The cave also introduced extendable snake platforms, fireball-spitting lava pits, and invincible mud monsters; the water stage proved to be quite hectic, with the waters teeming with enemies to whittle away your health, though you can make use of frogs to ascend to the slightly safer coral platforms.
As is to be expected of any platformer worth its salt, Chuck Rock includes a number of enemies to contend with; there’s mallet-swinging caveman, coconut-tossing enemies hiding in trees, and a range of dinosaur and prehistoric baddies, from little Triceratops’ who split into smaller enemies when attacked, to mud-spitting lizards, to jellyfish and swordfish. Each stage ends with a boss battle against a far bigger prehistoric enemy, though these often look more intimidating than they actually are. The first one you face is a massive Triceratops that mindlessly charges across a small, enclosed arena trying to trample you; however, you can safely stay out of range on the raised platform and it’s not especially difficult to dash into the area, grab the rock, jump to safety, and toss it at the charging dinosaur. The second stage ends with a fight against a far faster and more versatile sabretooth tiger; however, while this furry, sharp-toothed cat dashes around the arena at speed, I was easily able to accidentally trap it in a corner and beat it to death with Chuck’s belly without taking a single hit! Sadly, the same wasn’t true for the third stage boss, the Loch Ness Monster herself, Nessy (complete with diving headgear!) Nessy not only spits bubbles at you and is accompanied by some annoying little crab minions, but she’s so big that he hit box is massive, meaning it’s pretty hard to land a hit without taking one yourself and, as the bosses take quite a few hits to defeat, this was where I exhausted my lives, continues, and patience. It’s a shame, too, as there was only two more levels to go and a battle with a woolly mammoth and a Tyrannosaurus rex wearing boxing gloves to look forward to!
There’s a lot to like about Chuck Rock; the game looks really good, especially for an early Mega Drive title, has a fun, slapstick presentation, and the music and overall presentation are really great. I enjoy the gameplay mechanics or smacking enemies with your belly and tossing rocks as projectiles and boosts, but the execution is a little clunky. Chuck is so slow, his hit box so big, that he’s often at a disadvantage against his more nimble and versatile foes; he can take a few hits, but it’s far too easy to get repeatedly hit by attacks or hazards and lose a life since Chuck has little recovery time and there are no power-ups to help even the odds. The game is somewhat relenting in that it will respawn you at the start of the last stage you played, or in the boss room, when you die, but the limited continues really hurts the replay value and makes it unnecessarily more difficult than it needs to be. I do think it’s beatable, to be fair, though I get the sense that later levels would ramp up the frustration with more, far cheaper enemies and obstacles. I definitely think it’s a must-have game for your Mega Drive library, but it’s a bit disappointing that the Mega Drive version is apparently the only version of the game not to have any push-button codes to help make things easier. Regardless, I’d love to know if you’ve ever played, and beaten, Chuck Rock and your thoughts on the Neanderthal’s rock-tossing adventure so feel free to share these down in the comments or on my social media.
The Plot: Former spy Colonel Beauford LeMonde has stolen a nuclear weapon and joined forced with Triad leader Napoleon Hwong to threaten the safety of the civilised world. The player character, who pilots a Super Apache helicopter as part of anti-terrorist strike force STRIKE, is ordered to pursue the warlord, who kidnaps the world leaders and prepares to unleash chaos upon the globe!
Gameplay: In keeping with the new visual style introducing in Soviet Strike, Nuclear Strike ditches the illusion of 3D created by the isometric perspective of its predecessors and opts for a top-down perspective, with the camera sitting slightly above and behind the player’s vehicle. Like in the last game, you can change your viewpoint with the ‘Select’ button and this time I was actually able to notice the difference; one view kept the camera locked in place and the other saw it swing around with your movements, which I found quite disorientating. All of the movement and control options introduced in Soviet Strike make a welcome return here; there are five different controller layouts on offer, but I found the default button settings to be perfectly fine: X fires your rapid-fire chain gun, Square fires your Hydra Rockets, Circle the Hellfile Missiles, and Triangle will fire the super powerful sidewinders if they’re assigned to your wingtip. As before, you can “jink” (essentially a strafing option) with L1 and R1 to circle targets and avoid incoming fire more effectively, drop your cargo by pressing L2 and R2 together (though I only encountered one use for this, in the second campaign, where you can drop a powerful nitro-glycerine bomb to instantly destroy a fortified oil rig), remove the ammo, fuel, and armour and/or the compass from the heads-up display (HUD) with R2, and review the map and your mission status and objectives by pressing the Start button. A new feature added to Nuclear Strike is the ability to lock each weapon with L2; I thought this was some kind of targeting feature, or a way to restrict the use and wastage of your stronger weapons, but all it seemed to do was put a red border around the ammo box so I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of this function.
One way Nuclear Strike stands out not just from its predecessor but the last two games is the welcome return of additional vehicles; almost every campaign sees you commanding a different type of helicopter, and each one contains another craft you can switch to either by choice or at the behest of your mission objectives. You can hop back into a hovercraft, jump into a heavily-armoured harrier jet, and even roll around in a super tough tank or missile launcher, with the majority of your weapons still at your disposal (though the tank only has its main gun). When in one of these additional vehicles, you can hold L2 and R2 to initiate a self-destruct mode that will see it explode and your main chopper fly in to pick you up, which is handy when you’re stuck halfway across the map in the tank or hovercraft. All-in-all the game boasts it contains several playable vehicles, though as most are variations on the chopper this is a bit misleading but there are some key differences; your default chopper can only carry six passengers, for example, whereas the Huey (which also sports twin guns) can carry twelve. In campaign three, you’re placed at the controls of a smaller, feebler chopper than can only fire weak bullets and non-lethal rounds like smoke and tear gas and can only carry four passengers; you must use these limited options to flush out delegates and get them to safety and then blast parts of the environment (radio towers, petrol stations, and train barriers) to crush or destroy incoming enemy vehicles before switching to a more capable aircraft, which can be tricky as your little chopper is pretty pathetic. Two campaigns also introduce a degree of real-time strategy gameplay to the series; in one campaign, waves of enemies will come rolling across the map and you must fly to different bases to command ground forces to intercept them and form roadblocks. You can fly around trying to take them out yourself, but the sheer number makes this all-but impossible, though I found it equally difficult to find the bases and command my allies as you can’t do it remotely. This function pops up again in the final campaign, where you can direct some commandos to help you take out six radar towers, and your co-pilot will also help you to destroy a proto-nuclear missile and its launcher rig by jumping into her own chopper.
The game’s map system is exactly the same as the one seen in Soviet Strike but with some tweaks to the presentation; dialogue and onscreen notifications give information about your mission objectives, which you can read up on and cycle through from the map screen. I found that I was only able to tackle one mission at a time rather than reading ahead on a few of them as in previous games, though this might be because I played the game on the “Normal” difficult instead of the “Easy” setting. Either way, you can through your mission objectives, enemies, and notable resources and have each of these highlighted on the map to make it easier to plot an optimal route. Nuclear Strike also adds a helpful mini radar to the HUD and a green arrow to the compass that points you in the direction of whatever target you’ve selected on the map; the only thing to remember about the HUD is that enemy forces are highlighted in red and blue as blue indicates mission objectives so you might need to fire upon both. Even better is the fact that there’s finally a way to quick-exit a campaign if you fail or are in danger of failing; simply press Start and Select simultaneously and you’ll be returned to the main menu rather than having to slog all the way back to home base, though there’s still no option for analogue support. You are once again given a choice of a few loadouts for your chopper, though: you can balance out your ammo, focus on your missiles, or even fly into battle with just your chain gun; you can also customise the wingtip loadout to carry sidewinder missiles, additional fuel, or disrupt the enemy’s radar. As always, you get three lives (known as “attempts”) per campaign and will automatically winch up resources (fuel, ammo, and armour), targets (friendlies (your co-pilot and other agents), enemy commanders, dignitaries, and so forth), and cargo (nitro, cages) simply by flying over them and the new maps make it a little easier to accomplish this compared to the last game. Like Soviet Strike, you can no longer bash into buildings or mountains or parts of the environment, which is useful for reducing the damage you take, and you’re still awarded passwords after completing each campaign (though you must manually save your progress from the main menu) and at least one campaign even has a checkpoint, of sorts, that allows you to skip to a later point in the narrative after a nuclear device has exploded.
While many of Nuclear Strike’s mission objectives are very similar to those of the previous games, it definitely felt like things were a lot more varied and far less tedious this time around. At first, your doing familiar actions like firing upon burning smoke pits, destroy enemy forces to recruit and rescue targets, and taking out radar sites but there’s often a twist: when you rescue one target, you’re surprised by an ambush; other friendlies you rescue will fly into battle with you in choppers to help root out three enemy generals, for example. There are far more escort missions this time around; your ally and co-pilot, Naja Han, will lead you to target sites by driving erratically across the map on a motorcycle and will also need covering as she rescues diplomats from buildings. This results in two of the tougher missions, one where she’s driving a busload of work leaders through heavily-defended streets while you just have your piddling little chopper and another where you need to protect her as she drives a train to safety. The former can be quite fun as you blast barriers to move her down safer routes, watch her jump a gap in the bus, and listen to her passenger’s bicker and ask for ice cream; the latter is a little more stressful as you must quickly destroy or redirect suicidal trains and take out the heavy ordinance that can quickly make mincemeat of the train. While the second campaign is primarily about large-scale destruction of the enemy’s sea forces, you’ll also need to bribe a local mercenary by dropping off a crate load of treasure, drop him off to uncover missile sites that need destroying, and take out a fleet of Chinese ships before they escape. The final mission includes a huge electromagnetic pulse (EMP) in the middle of the map that disables all of your weapons except the chain gun and is heavily defended by cannons and massive tank-like Guardian Guns that can only be destroyed by having your co-pilot disable them first. You’ll need to take out the EMP by slipping inside and destroying the camouflaged trucks your co-pilot highlights and also investigate six Mongol-like structures trying to find and destroy three nuclear missiles. Overall, while the missions are very similar to its predecessors, there’s a lot less ferrying of passengers or repetitive tasks; the ability to command ground forces helps to mitigate a lot of the frantic flying about and there are lots of combat options available thanks to you and your co-pilot being able to command other vehicles.
Graphics and Sound: Nuclear Strike offers much of the same as its predecessor in terms of its presentation, bringing its varied and ambitiously detailed environments to life using only the finest polygonal graphics of the era, but goes a step further in a lot of little ways. While you mainly pilot variations of an attack chopper, just the fact that there are several vehicles to use is a step up from the last game; each is a fully functioning 3D model with differing speeds and handling, which starts to smoke when they take enough damage and explode in flames when shot down. Thanks to the game not being restricted to the Soviet Union and instead taking place around China and Korea and other such locations, the game maps are far more varied this time around; there’s a decent smattering of water to show off the new splash effects from weapons and explosions, fields and villages, and fully 3D models of buildings to recreate cities and Mongol temples in later campaigns. Probably the most diverse location in the game is Pyongyang, which starts out as a bustling city with functioning train tracks and ornate buildings to liberate dignitaries from and ends up a nuclear wasteland following an explosion; radioactive pits, wrecked buildings, and smouldering ruins scatter the landscape and really help to sell the gravity of the situation. Not only did I not notice any of the PlayStation’s trademark texture warping and screen tearing this time around, but any damage you cause to the environment was permanent this time around, meaning you’ll always see evidence of your firefights and the destruction caused from your conflicts.
While the game is still limited to five campaigns, your missions are as varied as the environments this time around; the second and final campaigns probably offer the most visual and gameplay variety, with you flying across the map taking out missiles and fortified oil rigs in the former and both avoiding heavy artillery and trying to knock out the EMP in the latter. Campaign four is especially notable for showcasing just how powerful the PlayStation is compared to its 16-bit predecessors as the sheer number of enemy forces can be overwhelming at times; they’ll trickle down through narrow passes, burst out from holes, and come crashing into your bases disguised as supply drops and they all need fending off and obstructing with your ground forces. There’s even a bit of day and night action here as the mission progresses and it can get extremely chaotic if you don’t properly marshal your reinforcements. Like its predecessor, Nuclear Strike also includes some in-game music to keep the adrenaline pumping throughout your high-stakes missions; while it dips in and out more often that in the last game, you’ll get a bit more variety other than some thumping tracks with victory jingles and even “Ride of the Valkyries” playing at one point, which did make me chuckle. As before, there’s a lot of voice work on offer here, too; everyone from your commanding officer, your co-pilot, and those you’ve rescued will offer encouragement, reprimands, and reminders as you blast your way through enemy targets and the game’s story is once again told entirely through some of the cheesiest and overly-edited FMV sequences from this era of gaming.
Enemies and Bosses: If you’ve played any of the Strike games before, particularly the previous game, then you know exactly what to expect in terms of enemies. Interestingly, I noticed that there seemed to be far less soldiers this time around; they’re still there, now sporting conical headwear and still shooting rifles and rockets from the ground and from trees, but they seemed less frequent than before. There are some variants here, too; after Pyongyang is devastated by a nuclear explosion, enemy soldiers wear haz-mat suits, and you’ll find a lot more armoured personnel carriers this time around. As is expect, tanks, jeeps, and anti-aircraft cannons are commonplace throughout Nuclear Strike; there seems to be a lot more missile launchers this time around as the stakes are much higher and enemies also barrel across the landscape of motorcycles to make for difficult targets. Occasionally, enemy helicopters will enter the fight and can also prove to be difficult to target; it’s therefore heavily advised that you destroy them while they’re grounded or make use of the “jink” feature toe strafe around them when they come flying in at high speeds. You’ll still need to check your fire as well; it’s all very well and good blasting away at enemy strongholds to free prisoners and such but you’ll screw up the mission if you kill or destroy the wrong targets and cost yourself some valuable resources if you’re too trigger happy, to say nothing of the greater number of enemy forces this time around.
For all the improvements and new features included in Nuclear Strike, you still won’t encounter any traditional boss battles. For the most part, the closest you’ll get to this is being tasked with destroying fleets and waves of enemies; the second campaign sees you defending a satellite from a missile attack, taking out an airfield and nine Hell Ranger choppers, destroying a fleet of chips, tracking down and sinking missile boats before they can launch, and raiding an enemy base. There’s also a heavily-defended oil rig here which pops up again in the game’s hidden campaign; if you don’t drop the nitro onto it, this can be quite difficult to destroy as it takes quite a beating and the target you’re there to retrieve even makes a getaway in a boat afterwards! After Pyongyang’s left a radioactive hellscape from a nuclear explosion, you need to safeguard an armoured train; enemy trains will come up from behind and ahead to try and ram and destroy yours so you need to take them out quickly, but the enemy tanks and missile launchers can’t be ignored either. The sheer number of enemy forces in the fourth campaign cannot be tackled alone; you need to give orders to your various ground troops to help you out as tanks, missile launchers, and armoured carriers can easily swarm all over the map and spell disaster for you. In the final mission, you won’t be able to put a dent in those Guardian Guns without your co-pilot disabling them first, but you also need to distract them so they don’t shoot or run her over, which can be a death sentence in itself. Finally, when the proto-nuclear missile is prepped for launch, you and your co-pilot need to blast it to smithereens to safeguard the civilised world, but you’ll also need to destroy the super-tough carrier it’s on and keep an eye out for any cannons, choppers, and tanks still roaming around the base.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: All the usual resources you’d expect from a Strike game are on offer here: you’ll find caches and crates of fuel, armour, and ammo scattered around the map, hidden inside buildings, and waiting at landing zones. Very rarely, you’ll also find an extra life that you can winch up and there are even some secret pick-ups to be found in certain campaigns, such as the aforementioned nitro, sea mines, night vision goggles, a faster winch, and a super cannon. Every campaign also has at least one vehicle you can switch to or drop your co-pilot off to use; there are often benefits to switching to a tank, such as being able to crash through buildings and obstacles, to say nothing of the additional and much appreciated power of the Harrier jet, though some, like the hovercraft, can be a little unwieldy to control.
Additional Features: As it still lacks any unlockables or even a scoring system, the main reason to revisit Nuclear Strike is to test out different loadouts, maybe try the “Normal” difficulty if you beat the game on “Easy”, seek out the hidden vehicles and optional objectives in each campaign, and try to complete your missions in faster and more efficient ways. The only thing you gain upon completion is a teaser for the next game in the series, apparently titled Future Strike, which obviously we never got, though STRIKE files are once again available on the main menu to add some extra context to the story. You can also still use passwords to skip to later campaigns or make your playthrough far easier and more enjoyable with some useful cheats; you can gift yourself stronger weapons, speed yourself up, disable enemy fire, or reap the benefits of unlimited fuel, invincibility, infinite ammo, and armour to make even the toughest campaigns a little easier. These can be entered in conjunction with level passwords, which is even better, and there’s even a password to access a secret campaign that appears to be some kind of test or training mission; here, you’re given three objectives (destroy hostiles to liberate allies, commandeer a tank or Harrier, and destroy a fortified oil rig) and basically given a little sandbox to mess around in.
The Summary: Without a doubt, Nuclear Strike is leaps and bounds the best in the series since the second game; where Soviet Strike was quite a stripped back experience that didn’t take advantage of the PlayStation’s greater power beyond the 3D paintjob and other aesthetic features, Nuclear Strike adds a whole bunch of variety to the presentation that makes it a truly worthwhile entry in the series. Everything that worked from the last game returns as reliable as ever but has been improved upon; the additional vehicles that reskins of choppers are great fun to use and actually give an incentive for exploration and I enjoyed how varied the campaigns were to create a nice balance between frantic combat, rescue, and escort missions. Unfortunately, the real-time strategy mechanics were more miss than hit with me; not being able to figure out how to highlight the bases or command the troops remotely made it more of a chore than it needed to be, but these mechanics were still better implemented than the awful on-foot sections from the third game. The twist of lumbering you with a non-lethal and ineffectual craft added an extra level of strategy to one campaign, though defending that train proved quite tricky thanks to how fragile the carriages are. The music wasn’t much to shout about but I enjoyed the visual variety on offer, the increased stakes, ad the new graphical features such as lasting damage and improved polygons and explosions. Although Nuclear Strike is a vast improvement over Soviet Strike in every way, though, there’s still a distinct lack of replayability to the title that keeps it for being a five-star experience; I’d definitely recommend this one of the two and it’s a game I can see myself revisiting, but the difficulty curve can still be a brick wall at times and it’s not always massively clear what you need to do to progress even with the improvements to the map system. Overall, Nuclear Strike is well worth a playthrough, and you can easily just skip to this one form the second game, but don’t be ashamed to take advantage of the cheat codes if you’re struggling.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Did you ever own Nuclear Strike back in the day? How do you think it compares to the previous game and the other games in the series? What did you think to the vehicles on offer, and which was your favourite? Were you a fan of the new environments and the altered mission objectives? How did you find the real-time strategy mechanics and which of the campaigns was the hardest for you to complete? Whatever your thoughts on Nuclear Strike, go ahead and share them below or comment on my social media and maybe check out my other Strike reviews.
Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve been spotlighting four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 4 September 1993 (Mega Drive / SNES) / February 1994 (NES) Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox One, and Xbox Series S
The Background: There was only one franchise that dominated childhoods back in the late-eighties and early-nineties and that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for Brits like me); beginning life as a violent pastiche of comic book tropes, the TMNT’s popularity exploded into the massively successful cartoon and action figures, live-action movie adaptations, and many videogames. Spearheaded by Konami, the TMNT were equally successful with their arcade beat-‘em-ups and their home console ports, but this was also a time when Capcom had changed the face of both arcades and the competitive fighting scene with the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior(Capcom, 1991), which was great success on home consoles and inspired a slew of knock-offs looking to cash in on Capcom’s success. The TMNT were amongst these with this one-on-one tournament fighter, which released in slightly different versions across three platforms at the time; the games took inspiration from the cartoons, movies, and the Archie spin-off comics but, while the 16-bit titles aped the combos and special moves of Street Fighter II, the 8-bit version had more in common with the likes of Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1984) due to the NES’s limitations. Of the three, the SNES version was positively received despite being a Street Fighter II knock-off, the Mega Drive version was criticised for its sluggish controls and lacklustre presentation, while the NES version was seen as ambitious but unsurprisingly limited. All three games were lost to the midst of time, available only through emulators or extortionately expensive physical copies until they were included in this Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other games and quality of life features.
The Plot: The Turtles and their allies take part in a one-on-one tournament against some of their most recognisable and obscure enemies and friends. In the Mega Drive version, the heroes battle across the alien worlds of Dimension X to rescue Splinter from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, and their evil clones; in the NES version, the Shredder challenges them to defeat his latest plot for world domination; and in the SNES version, the heroes battle on a fighting game show to prove their mettle and earn some cold, hard cash.
Gameplay: Regardless of which version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters you choose to play, the game is a standard 2D, one-on-one fighting game, with the 16-but versions of the game heavily borrowing their controls, combat, and presentation from Street Fighter II. Each game comes with a different roster of fighters, with ten fighters selectable in the SNES version, eleven available in the Mega Drive version, and seven in the NES version. Each version of the game allows you to customise the gameplay in some way, such as setting the difficulty level of the game (which directly impacts the ending and bosses you face), changing the time limit and amount of rounds to win (with the games defaulting to the standard best of three rounds), setting the speed of the game, setting the amount of credits you have to continue laying upon defeat, and eve setting the strength of your character and your opponent to establish any handicaps. These features don’t carry across to every version of the game, and some are slightly altered (the SNES version represents difficulty on a zero to seven scale, for example, while the NES uses a simple Easy, Normal, and Hard designation), but these options are generally consistent to those seen in Street Fighter II.
Combat, however, is a slightly different story and varies somewhat between each version; while the SNES version benefits from the additional buttons and mimics the directional input and button presses of Street Fighter II to pull off special moves, the Mega Drive and NES versions are limited by their control scheme layouts and the general presentation of the game. Indeed, the SNES version is more like Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom, 1994), running much faster at its maximum speed and aping similar button combinations, while the Mega Drive version is far slower and reminds me more of the original, somewhat clunky first release of Street Fighter II. The NES version, as mentioned, is more like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and features little in the way of complex button combinations and special moves due to the limitation of the NES hardware. In the SNES version, you have two different types of punches and kicks; A and X launch a “normal” punch and kick while B and Y throw “fierce” variants. You can press up on the directional pad (D-pad) to jump and launch flying kicks and punches; when up close to an enemy, you’ll grab them and toss them in a unique throw move and you’ll use directional inputs and button presses (down, diagonal down-right, right, X, for example) to pull off each character’s special moves. When not playing in the game’s story mode, you’ll gradually fill up a gauge underneath your life bar; when this is full, you can use another simple button combination to unleash a devastating “Ultimate-Attack” that, unlike your regular attacks, actually damages the opponent through their block (though if they attack you during it you’ll fail and it’ll deplete if you don’t use it in time). Much of this is true of the Mega Drive version, but with some notable differences; there’s no special attack gauge, for starters, and no “fierce” attacks, you simply use X to punch and A to kick, and press Y to pull off a taunt (that seems to have no function). To pull off stronger attacks, you need to press the D-pad towards the opponent and then press X or A; you can still grab and throw your foe but special moves seem a lot harder to pull off (not least because the button inputs are missing from the strategy guide) and the game’s sluggish pace makes combat inconsistent and frustrating. It’s still more complex that the NES version, though; here, X punches and A kicks and that’s about it; you can use directional inputs and button presses to pull off special moves, but they’re extremely basic and the TMNT don’t even fight with their signature weapons in this game! Each game features a stun mechanic like in Street Fighter II, though; deal enough damage in a string of attacks and your opponent will be momentarily dazed and wide open for another combo or throw.
Some versions of the game do allow you to alter the button layout if you’re not happy with the default, and all three versions allow you to block by holding back on the D-pad (a mechanic I’ve always found awkward in fighting games; I much prefer a dedicated block button) but the SNES version also allows you to flip away from incoming attacks but only the NES version allows you to run towards your opponent by double tapping the D-pad. Each version also comes with a few gameplay options; you can take on the story mode (where you’re limited to playing as the TMNT), with cutscenes and a map screen (in the Mega Drive version) furthering the narrative between each bout, battle against a friend (or against the computer in the NES version), watch or practice the game in the SNES and Mega Drive versions, or take on a standard tournament mode. This also differs greatly between each version, with the SNES version taking the form of a broadcast and game show and featuring pre- and post-match dialogue and even tossing in a bonus stage where you rack up extra points and gold by smashing open safes in a bid to help break up the monotony. Although this is absent from the Mega Drive version, whose tournament simply goes from one fight to the next, every match is followed by an instant replay), bonus stages do appear in the NES version; here you have to smash through walls in the dojo for extra points, and all three will tally up certain criteria (health remaining, time left, whether you took damage or not) when you’re victorious to add to your score and this is the only version of the game to feature a high score table.
Each game comes with a natural, steady, and expected difficulty curve that I find is typical of most fighting games but synonymous with Street Fighter II; your ability to succeed will depend on how adept you are at pulling off the awkward special attacks and combos, especially as special attacks and throws deal way more damage than your regular attacks. The enemy AI, even on the easiest settings, is incredibly cheap in all three versions; your opponent will block almost constantly, is consistently able to attack and throw you through your attack animations, and they’re far more aggressive and skilled than I was, meaning I either had to fight hard and fast or be on the defensive. The difficulty and gameplay sliders can help with this, especially in the Mega Drive version, which allows you to reduce the rounds to win to one and set your speed and power to give you an advantage. Since the SNES version is the fastest of the three, combat can move at a breakneck speed, with rounds turning out of your favour in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be immediately at a disadvantage as you need to play on at least difficulty level three to even battle to true final boss and see the game’s best ending. This is even more demanding in the Mega Drive version, where you need to play on level eight to get the true ending; this version is so hampered by its plodding speed that it’s easy to get trapped in an unbreakable combo string and stunned into oblivion by your hyper-aggressive opponents. The NES version can be both paradoxically difficult and easy at the same time; there’s little benefit from picking one fighter over another as they’re all so limited but some, like Hothead, make for bigger targets while others, like Casey Jones, appear to be more agile. Either way, the limitations of the hardware make this a mundane back and forth affair that’s more about who can grab the power-up first rather than requiring any in-depth skill like the SNES version.
Graphics and Sound: Obviously, all three games look and sound very different. Of the three, the SNES version is the clear winner in terms of overall presentation; the game features more sound bites, big, bright, and well animated sprites and backgrounds, and the music is clearer and has more kick to it. The emphasis on story and cutscenes means there’s far more opportunities for big, partially animated sprite art here, with April O’Neil reporting on and interviewing characters before and after bouts and every fight in story mode being proceeded by dialogue between the fighters and the TMNT travelling to each location via their signature blimp. The characters in this version are clearly modelled more like the cartoon, with a hint of the live-action influence here and there, and they’re all large and full of attack and reaction frames. Sadly, the same isn’t true of the Mega Drive version; even the title screen and character select screen aren’t as impressive, though the game does include more palette swaps and some different fighters compared to its SNES counterpart. Sprites are smaller, however, duller, and seem to be missing some animation frames; everyone seems far meaner and more surly, as well, making this a very gritty and moody experience that seems to owe more to the original Mirage Comics, but it’s pretty obvious even to a die-hard SEGA fan like me which version has the better overall presentation. Naturally, the NES version is the most inferior in terms of graphics, character, and stage selection; however, while the TMNT don’t sport their signature weapons, they do have their own unique green palettes to separate them and the character designs seem to be drawing more from the first live-action movie than anything else. You won’t find much in the way of animation and variety here but it’s pretty ambitious, really; sprites have some decent details and special attacks, but the game suffers from black bars eating up a lot of the player’s screen.
Naturally, the stages you’ll fight in follow very much the same format; the SNES version features a variety of large and detailed environments set largely on Earth, with some even featuring destructible elements to smash your opponents into like in Street Fighter II. Also like in that game, you’ll see background characters and elements and characters cheering and watching the fight, including TMNT staples like Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman in his fly form, and various Foot Soldiers. There’s always something going on in the SNES version, whether it’s a giant octopus, a band performing on stage, or a news report recording the action, and this version also includes better, more detailed and varied story cutscenes and even character bios in its attract mode. Comparatively, the Mega Drive version is an immediate disappointment; cutscenes are smaller and less interesting and the backgrounds, while surreal and often disturbing, are far more muted and feature almost no animation and absolutely no interactable elements. As this version of the game features a planet-hopping narrative, there are some bizarre stages to choose from, from an ice world complete with a submarine to an ocean planet with a sinking ship in the background, to the bleakness of the cosmic abyss, but it’s all so dull and lifeless even when there’s giant cycloptic magma creatures and dinosaurs looming in the background. Again, the NES version is hampered by its hardware and includes only four stages: the sewers, a subway station, the galley of a pirate ship, and the rooftops of New York City. This latter is the most impressive stage, showing the city and the Statue of Liberty at night and in all its 8-bit glory, and is preceded by a rare cutscene to set the stage for the final battle against the Shredder.
Enemies and Bosses: As with all fighting games, every available character will eventually be your enemy at some point; button codes and the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements allow you to play as the boss characters in the 16-bit versions of the game and the Mega Drive version even includes and practise mode to help you get to grips with your favourite character. Essentially, however, there’s minimal benefit to picking a certain character in each version of the game; all of them sport special moves that can match each other, with every character sporting projectiles, grabs, and powerful rushing or slamming attacks to deal heavy damage. However, there are some notable exceptions; as mentioned, Hothead is a unique character in the NES version, sporting a chunkier sprite and breathing fire, meaning his hit box is a little larger and the character is a little slower. In the Mega Drive version, Casey Jones can set bombs as traps, while characters like Chrome Dome and Krang can cover distances from a standstill with their extending arms and legs. Even on the easiest setting, the SNES version puts up quite a fight; I struggled against War in the first battle simply because of his ridiculous rolling throw and large swiping claws, and the Shredder proved quite formidable here thanks to his dashing uppercut, his flurry of punches, and his cheap tactics of spamming low kicks. The Rat King also proved a unique foe in this version as he relied more on wrestling moves, snatching you out of the air and grabbing you midway through your attacks to slam you to the ground, and you’ll really get a sense of how good or bad you are when you face off against your character in a mirror match.
These are spiced up a bit in the Mega Drive version through the inclusion of evil clones, who sport a purple palette swap and constantly dog your progress throughout the game. The Mega Drive version also includes a unique character, Sisyphus, an alien beetle who spits a blue projectile at you and unleashes a rapid-fire horn attack. He’s not the only unique character, however; Ray Fillet, April O’Neil, and a Triceraton are also included in this version of the game, while Wingnut, Aska, and Armaggon round out the SNES roster, with each one bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. April was a surprisingly decent character to use as she has a very cheap crouching spam attack that’s great four countering the game’s aggressive enemies, but you can never count out the titular turtles, who can send ground sparks, spinning cyclones, and twirling kicks your way at any moment even in the NES version. Krang only appears as a boss in the Mega Drive version of the game; naturally, you battle him in the Technodrome as the penultimate boss and he’s able to extended his arms, slide at you with a kick, and fire missiles high and low from his robot body but his sprite just isn’t large or intimidating enough to evoke a sense of danger. Both 16-bit versions include the same final boss, Karai, who can only be fought on higher difficulty settings; on the SNES, you fight her on top of a speeding train, whereas you battle her in a traditional dojo on the Mega Drive. In both, she’s easily the most formidable fighter, which is accentuated on the SNES thanks to her larger sprite; she’s capable of crossing the screen with a devastating cartwheel kick, tossing out projectiles, diving from high above with flying kicks, and is overall a pretty tough customer thanks to her martial arts kicks and overly aggressive AI. Thanks to its limited roster, the Shredder is your final foe in the NES version of the game; fought on a rooftop like in the movie and original comic, Shredder again has a dashing uppercut, a flaming flurry of punches, and can send a ground shot your way but goes down just as easily as every other enemy in this version of the game.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As Tournament Fighters is styled heavily after Street Fighter II, for the most part, there aren’t any in-game power-ups for you to utilise. The SNES version includes that special gauge outside of the story mode, which is good for a dramatic finish, but this is completely absent from the Mega Drive version. The NES version, however, does feature a power-up; at some point in every battle, Splinter will drop a red ball into the arena, which you can collect by pressing down and X. While the exact button inputs aren’t explained, and it seems incredibly temperamental, you can then launch this ball at your enemy to deal massive (and, usually, decisive) damage and this will be your key to victory in almost every bout. Be warned, though, as your foe is also able to pick up the ball and you’ll lose it if you take too much damage.
Additional Features: The additional features on offer differ somewhat between each version of Tournament Fighters but there is some overlap; each version includes a story and a tournament mode and allows players to go head-to-head, selecting their character, stage, and handicap modifiers as you’d expect from a one-on-one fighter. Each game includes a variety of endings depending on which character you play as and the difficulty you set the game to, encouraging multiple playthroughs if you can stand to tackle this game again. Of course, the Cowabunga Collection adds even more features to these games; you’ll get a generous 100G Achievement for completing each game, however, you need to beat each one of the higher/highest difficulty level and battle Karai for this to pop. You can also use the Left Bumper to rewind the gameplay and bring up save states and display options with the Right Bumper, which also allows you to look through the strategy guide for tips and move inputs, which is much appreciated. In addition to viewing each game’s box art and manuals, exploring their soundtracks, and switching between the American and Japanese versions, you can enhance each game in various ways: you can choose to play as the 16-bit bosses, access additional stages, increase the game’s speed, and enable extra lives, remove sprite and slowdown from the NES version and allow for Hothead versus Hothead fights if you wish.
The Summary: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is a tough one for me. I’m really not the best at Street Fighter II and similar knock-off fighters; the button inputs and aggressive opponents always throw me off and playing these games is often more frustrating than fun. The TMNT aesthetic certainly suits the format; all of the character have unique attacks and represent both the cartoons, comics, toys, and movies from the time and anyone who’s ever played Street Fighter II, especially on home consoles, will be immediately familiar with the 16-but versions of the game. For me, the SNES version is the clear winner; not only does it look and sound the best of the three, it plays a lot better and there are far better opportunities for combos and special attacks. The story and tournament modes are also presented in a much more visually impressive way, the stages are livelier and more interesting, and the game is bolstered by the faster combat and fluid gameplay. It pains me to say it being a big SEGA fan, but the Mega Drive version just can’t compete with its SNES counterpart; everything’s smaller, grimier, and so slow and clunky. I actually prefer some of the roster here, having read a lot of the TMNT’s Archie Comics as a kid, but the gameplay and presentation lets these additions down considerably. Naturally, the NES version is the inferior of the three but, even so, it does a decent job with the limitations of its hardware. One-on-one fighters are never a good option on inferior hardware and the TMNT definitely benefitted more from their 8-bit sidescrolling adventures and brawlers, but there’s some ambitious elements here that make it an interesting option, at least, though it’s hard to believe anyone choosing to downgrade or settle for the NES version of the far superior SNES version. Overall, if you’re a fan of one-on-one fighters and Street Fighter II, you could do a lot worse than to give the SNES version of Tournament Fighters a whirl; the other two are worth a quick playthrough for a boost to your gamer score but I can’t see myself picking the Mega Drive or NES version on future playthroughs since the SNES version just leaves both in the dust with its superior options, gameplay, combat, and presentation.
Mega Drive Rating:
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Could Be Better
What did you think to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters? Which of the three did you own back in the day, or is your favourite to play in this collection? How do you think it compares to other one-on-one fighters, especially Street Fighter II? Which character was your favourite to play as in each version? Were you disappointed by the dip in graphical quality in the Mega Drive version? What did you think to the NES version and how it utilised the system’s limitations? Would you like to see another one-on-one tournament fighter from the TMNT? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Whatever your thoughts on Tournament Fighters, go ahead and share them in the comments below or leave a comment on my social media.
The Plot: After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, former KGB Chairman Uri Vatsiznov (a.k.a. the Shadowman) seeks to fill the power vacuum and spark an international war. Only STRIKE, a special covert operations unit, has the weaponry and capability of opposing Shadowman, and the player must once again pilot an Apache helicopter to fight back against Shadowman and his nefarious comrades.
Gameplay: Unlike its predecessors, which opted for an isometric perspective to create the illusion of being 3D in a largely 2D era of gaming, Soviet Strike switches to a top-down perspective, with the camera placed above and slightly behind the player’s fully armed chopper. The game does offer the option to switch your viewpoint using the ‘Select’ button, but all this seemed to do was swing the camera back around to its default position in the rare instances where it gets twisted around by the in-game action. Thanks to the additional buttons and movement options offered by the PlayStation’s graphical superiority, Soviet Strike both plays very similar to its predecessors but also expands the controls somewhat: the game offers four different button layouts, but the default is more than adequate, allowing you to fire your Hellfires with Circle, chaingun with X, and your Hydra Rockets with Square and adding a fourth, more powerful missile – one assigned to your wingtip – with Triangle. The previous games allowed you to “jink” but I found little use for this ability; here, it’s mapped to L1 and R1 and is very useful for “sidestepping” out of the way of incoming fire. L2 allows you to drop whatever cargo you’re carrying (though this was only necessary in one mission so could’ve just been an automatic function to discourage you from accidentally destroying vital cargo), R2 changes the heads-up display to remove the ammo, fuel, and armour so you just have the compass or remove everything entirely to more closely resemble the 16-bit games, and you can pause the game and review the map and current objectives with the Start button.
The map is now far more realistic than in the previous games and took me a little while to adjust to but is actually more useful than ever; at times, you’ll get onscreen notifications about mission objectives and can view these by pressing start, but you can also cycle through your mission objectives, enemies, and notable resources and have each highlighted on the map to make plotting an optimal route even easier. You can read up on each mission, enemy, and resource, review the status of your current objectives, and get a better sense of the story from this screen as well, though there’s still no way to manually quit the game without failing the mission and being forced back to home base. Although Soviet Strike doesn’t offer analogue support and you can’t select a co-pilot this time around, you can customise your chopper with a number of loadouts: you can balance your ammo across all weapons, focus on your missiles, or even head into battle with just your chaingun; you can also customise your wingtip loadout to give you the powerful sidewinder missiles, additional fuel, or disrupt the enemy’s radar. As ever, you’ll automatically winch up resources (fuel, ammo, and armour), targets (prisoners of war (POWs), enemy commanders, scientists, and the like), and cargo (nuclear cores and missiles) just by flying over them, though I found the new perspective made it a little tricky to properly target these, and the game completely goes away with the building collision seen in its predecessors; now, you’ll automatically fly over any structures in your way, which is helpful for maintaining your armour though at the cost of a level of realism. As ever, you’re given three lives (known as “attempts”) to complete each of the five campaigns and must complete a variety of missions within each campaign; the scoring system has been done away with, however, but, while the password system returns, you can manually save after completing each campaign.
Strangely, considering the additional power of the PlayStation compared to 16-bit consoles, Soviet Strike doesn’t include any other vehicles or gameplay modes other than the main chopper, meaning that the variety on offer is more akin to Desert Strike than its sequels. Additionally, the missions you’re tasked with completing are extremely familiar to those from previous games and range from destroying radar sites to reduce the number of onscreen enemies, rescuing POWs and other targets and dropping them off at one of five different landing zones (necessitating a bit of back-and-forth traversal as you can only carry six passengers at a time), destroying enemy buildings and airfields, and disabling enemy ships. If you fail any one of these missions, either by being too trigger happy or not being fast enough to destroy or rescue certain targets, the entire campaign is scrubbed and you must return to base to try all over again from the beginning, though you’re often asked “only” to rescue a certain number of targets rather than all of them. As you progress through the game, some objectives will be hidden from you or unavailable until you complete others or pick up key intel, and the game maps are generally arranged in such a way to promote successive progression from one objective to the next. Things soon get quite nuanced as you must rescue an agent before he’s gunned down by a firing squad, drop him off and defend his position as he sets charges, enters a nuclear plant, or calls in an airstrike, dispose of nuclear missiles by dropping them into the sea, fend off a landing assault and, in the third campaign, destroy waves of different enemy tanks and vehicles as they move to converge on a number of different target sites. Enemies will now target friendlies this time around, destroying your resources and attacking villages and such, and you’ll sometimes be notified of additional side missions as you go, though you can ignore all of these without punishment if you wish. By the time you reach the fifth and final mission, things become extremely delicate; you must defend key targets from enemy attacks, rescue government officials before they’re killed, hunt down and destroy a number of bomb trucks before they destroy the city bridges, and defend your co-pilot as she races around the city to get a dignitary to an airport, all of which can get quite stressful as you have to redo the entire campaign from the start if you fail at any point.
Graphics and Sound: Naturally, Soviet Strike is a step up from its predecessors; almost everything is rendered in the finest polygonal graphics the PlayStation has to offer and given a gloss of realism that was ambitiously attempted in the 16-bit titles but not fully realised until the jump to 32-bits. Your helicopter is a fully functioning 3D model, one that easily and smoothly cuts through the air and can “jink” aside from incoming fire; it even starts to smoke when you take enough damage and will burst apart in a ball of fire when being shot down. Enemy vehicles are similarly rendered, appearing to be faster and more versatile as a result, and you’ll encounter the same level of fun detail applied to the various structure sin each environment; drilling rigs, chemical plants, power stations, and the glory of the Kremlin are all brought to life as well defined 3D models, most of which can be destroyed either as part of your mission, to uncover resources and targets, or to cost you your chance at completing the campaign. Although everything has been given a bit more substance and appeal through the shift to a fully 3D perspective, the overall presentation remains very similar to its predecessors, and you won’t really find anything new on offer here in terms of visual variety. Generally, though, everything runs very smoothly; the load times are pretty fast and I noticed very little slowdown during my playthrough, though there were instances of texture warping and screen tearing at times as was common in many PlayStation titles.
Despite the power of the PlayStation, however, the game is still limited to five campaigns and five locations, without any additional gameplay mechanics or options afforded to the player. Similar to how the first game was restricted to the desert, Soviet Strike sets all of its action in various locations in Soviet Russia, though there is some visual variety on offer; you start off in a rural area surrounded by snowy mountains, venture to a heavily fortified dock and sea, attack airfields in a frozen wasteland, and even venture into the desert once more, now far more interesting to look at thanks to the rocky terrain. You’ll also visit Transylvania, complete with wolf howls, radioactive dumping grounds, and suitably gothic aesthetics, and the bustling cityscape of the Kremlin for the final mission. There are a few fun things to spot here and there, from moose to people sunbathing on the beach and friendly villages, all of which can be destroyed. The game also includes in-game music for the first time; it’s nothing spectacular and simply comprised of thumping beats, but its greatly appreciated. There’s also a fair amount of voice work on offer as your co-pilot and passengers offer advice, praise, and reprimands, and the game’s story is entirely related through choppy, frantic FMV sequences that are full of the cheese and over-the-top acting you’d expect from this era of gaming.
Enemies and Bosses: Although coated with a fancy new 3D coat of paint, most of the enemies you’ll encounter throughout Soviet Strike are largely and functionally the same as those from previous games. The game offers gun-toting soldiers and their rocket launcher variants, who can hide in towers, bunkers, and stream from armoured vehicles to attack the targets you’re trying to rescue, as well as various jeeps and tanks that roll around the map. Anti-aircraft turrets and cannons are also commonplace and should be targeted as soon as possible, though you’ll obviously want to avoid or take out the enemy’s larger missile-firing ordinance as soon as you can. Some campaigns see snowmobiles, jet skis, and Hind helicopters join the fray, as well as amphibious tanks and some enemy placements being hidden in buildings. It’s important not to fire away willy-nilly; not only to do risk expending your limited ammunition but you could also hit a vital target and cost yourself the mission if you’re not too careful, and the game’s new perspective can make hitting enemies a little tougher this time around so it’s always a good idea to make use of the “jink” function and to take cover behind buildings wherever possible.
As before, Soviet Strike doesn’t feature any traditional boss battles; instead, you’ll need to do your fare share of retrieving, defending, and destroying targets. At first, this isn’t too much of a stretch as long as you don’t accidentally destroy the villa you need to be infiltrating in the first campaign but every time you need to defend a target you’ll be faced with waves of tanks. Enemies even spawn in to attack the scientists who are key to preparing a salt mine and deactivating a nuclear core in the Transylvania campaign, but the biggest test here is airlifting eleven of them out of an incoming blast zone with no onscreen time and the landing zone being a fair distance away, meaning it can be pretty hairy making the round trip to get everyone to safety. The second campaign sees you sinking enemy submarines, cargo ships, and a large, heavily defended carrier, some of which must be destroyed before they can escape which can be easier said than done if you’re running low on resources. Similarly, the third campaign can be quite the endurance as you must destroy waves of incoming enemy vehicles before they can destroy friendly settlements; ammo and other resources are scattered about but these are some of the game’s deadliest enemy vehicles and they advance in large groups, meaning it’s easy to cut get down by the crossfire. While flying about the Kremlin, you’ll need to be quick on the controls to keep the government officials from being killed and stop the bomber trucks from destroying the city bridges, but it’s the escort mission that can prove the most trying. Luckily, there’s a backup vehicle on hand if the enemy (or you, accidentally) destroys the limo, but the vehicle’s driving is so erratic, and the number of tanks and enemy vehicles so numerous, that it can be easy to lose track of your target and fail to protect it. Finally, you’ll need to be both aggressive and mindful when luring out and capturing the elusive Shadowman; you need to take him alive so you have to sink his escape boat and hold fire long enough to retrieve him, which can be difficult given how many hits some of these more heavily-armoured enemy vehicles can take.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Sadly, there really isn’t anything new on offer here that hasn’t been seen in previous Strike videogames. You start off with a set amount of ammo, fuel, and armour and these can all be replenished by finding various crates and resources across the game’s environments, all helpfully indicated on your map. You’ll very rarely find an extra life and maybe a brief upgrade to some of your arsenal, but what you see is basically what you get; beyond the different loadouts on offer, which basically amount to different difficulty settings for the game, there’s nothing different here at all and actually less than was seen in the last two games as you can’t switch to other vehicles this time around.
Additional Features: Without a high score table, the only real reasons to play through Soviet Strike again would be to test out different loadouts, find faster and more efficient ways to complete each campaign, and maybe seek out some of the optional side missions to see how (or even if) they impact the story. There isn’t anything to unlock after finishing the game, though you can read STRIKE files on the main menu for some added context and make use to the passwords to jump ahead to later campaigns if you like. There are also, thankfully, some useful passwords on offer here; you can grant yourself stronger weapons, unlimited fuel, invincibility, extra lives, or even infinite ammo, fuel, and lives to make even the toughest campaigns a little easier. You can input these cheats in conjunction with level passwords as well, which is even more helpful, though none of these will help you if you kill or destroy the wrong target. Apparently, the SEGA Saturn version is actually superior in a number of ways and offers a few extra features so it might be worth checking that version of the game for a comparison.
The Summary: If there’s one thing holding Soviet Strike back, it’s the sharp difficulty curve; for me, all of the Strike games have been pretty difficult and demand a lot from the player, giving such a small window for error and forcing you to return to base if you fail even one of your objectives. Thus, you’re forced to play perfectly right away, each and every time, and the game encourages trial and error and replaying each campaign until you find an optimal solution that allows you to make the best use of your resources to take out targets and rescue others without losing your pitiful number of lives. This is true of the Strike games I’ve played before but is somehow more palpable here, with the game throwing a whole mess of targets at you in the second campaign that will test the limits of your ammo conservation and patience in navigating the many onscreen hazards. Thankfully, the game’s passwords mean you can tip the odds in your favour, but even infinite fuel, ammo, and lives don’t amount to much if your allies are killed by enemy fire or your won trigger finger. Soviet Strike seems to veer more towards action than its predecessors; there’s far more resources available to you one each map and firefights and explosions are so much more action-packed and pronounced thanks to the 3D graphics, which makes the game very enjoyable, but it’s frustrating when you painstakingly airlift scientists to safety only to have them wiped out because you were busy with another objective and didn’t realise they were being picked off. The lack of additional vehicles and restricting the action to Russia, however varied the game’s maps may be, is also a shame but my overall experience with Soviet Strike was largely positive and I could see myself revisiting it for more polygonal action in the future.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Was Soviet Strike included in your PlayStation library back in the day? How do you think it compares to the previous games in the series? What did you think to the new perspective and 3D models? Were you disappointed by the lack of extra vehicles and being stuck in Russia or did you enjoy the new loadouts and combat options? Which of the campaigns and missions was the hardest for you to complete? Whatever you think about Soviet Strike, feel free share them below or comment on my social media and check in next Saturday for my review of the final entry in the series.
Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 15 November 1991 Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
The Background: In the late-eighties and early-nineties, you’d be hard pressed to find a franchise more popular than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the United Kingdom, the original dark and violent comic books exploded into an incredibly successful cartoon and extensive toy line, and a slew of videogame outings courtesy of developer Konami. Konami’s efforts helped to make the NES a household name here in the UK, produced two of the most beloved titles for arcades and home consoles, and also extended to three handheld titles for Nintendo’s super successful portable, the Game Boy. Building upon the standards set by its predecessor, Back from the Sewers improved upon the visuals despite the obvious limitations of the Game Boy hardware and expanded the gameplay options available to bring the sub-series more in line with its bigger, better 16-bit counterparts. Since a complete physical version of the game is still ridiculously expensive for the quality of the game, I was still glad to see Back from the Sewers included in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
The Plot: The TMNT’s archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, returns, now bolstered by the forces of the sinister Krang and kidnaps April O’Neil to get his revenge on the foursome.
Gameplay: Like its predecessor, Back from the Sewers is a simple sidescrolling action game rather than a traditional arcade style beat-‘em-up. After selecting from three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, or Hard), you pick one of the four turtles and battle your way from the left side of the screen to right across six stages (referred to as “Acts”). Again, the Game Boy’s limited colour palette means that the turtles are only distinguished by their individual weapons, but they again have different strengths and weaknesses: Leonardo is a bit of an all-rounder, for example, with Raphael having a fast attack but a terrible range. Sadly, the shuriken projectiles are gone; they’re replaced by a sliding kick that I only found a handful of uses for as it often leaves you open to enemy attacks, but you can toss shuriken when using ladders. The buttons have been remapped, with A allowing you to jump (holding it again allows you to get some extra height with a reanimated somersault) and X performing your attack; you can pull off a jumping attack by pressing X in mid-air and the game still allows you to hit back or destroy most incoming projectiles with your attack. Screen transitions are much more involved this time and initiated by climbing ladders but you’ll also clamber along pipes to cross gaps and there is a lot more emphasis on vertical traversal, with you hopping up and down girders and platforms using up and down on the directional pad and A.
The essential gameplay remains mostly unchanged; the screen and hardware limitations mean things are still very restrictive but there are far more influences from the TMNT’s arcade titles (the Foot jump up from manholes and you can fall down the holes, for example). The most obvious of these is in Act 2, which sees you racing along a bridge on a rocket-powered skateboard attacking enemies and dodging barrels, and Act 6, which recreates the classic Sewer Surfin’ level, to say nothing of the inclusion of not one but two traditional elevator sequences in Act 3 and 6. There are also some additional gameplay elements here, such as a race away from a rolling boulder in Act 4, mines being scattered across the ground, bursts of flames and machine gun fire, and jumping to a series of floating platforms in Act 5. Levels are a bit longer and more involved but the game loves to artificially up the difficulty by swarming you with an endless barrage of Mousers and bug ‘bots; these fuckers will pop out from holes in the caves and sewers and from mechanical ports and it can be extremely frustrating trying to fend them all off and back jumps in Act 3’s construction sites. Some stages seem to be on a loop as well, though I think this is just a consequence of the limited hardware, and you’ll still have to avoid the same obstacles like falling hazards and electrical bolts. As before, you can pick a different character between stages and if your health is drained; each turtle has their own health bar, any damage you take carries over to the next Act, and any captured turtle can be rescued in bonus games, with these now taking place upon completion of an Act and seeing you chasing around an enclosed arena to refill your health as much as possible in a short time limit.
Graphics and Sound: Although Back from the Sewers is still handicapped by the Game Boy’s hardware, it’s an obvious graphic step up over its predecessor right from the start, where it ambitiously recreates the cartoon’s iconic opening sequence, and the game even includes some limited sound bites to punctuate the action. The game’s overall presentation is far more akin to the cartoon than many other TMNT titles as it not only basis its story art on the cartoon but even includes level intros and a pause screen that mimic the show’s episode titles. All of the sprites and environments have been overhauled and are all the better for it; the TMNT are bigger and more detailed, with Leonardo and Raphael now carrying two weapons each and all four having a more detailed idle animation. Although the sprites appear a bit stiffer and more clunky than other TMNT titles, they pull an amusing panic face when running from the aforementioned rock and will be left charred when caught in flames and explosions.
Similarly, the game’s environments are far more detailed than those seen in the previous game; this is evident from the opening Act, which actually provides a level of depth and visual interest to the sewers despite the lack of moving water. This extends to the streets as well, where vehicles and there’s an attempt to showcase some depth to the backgrounds can be seen, and in the overhauled Technodrome which now sports many of the same hazards and features as the arcade versions. While there are only a handful of unique environments, such as a cave and an overused construction site, there is much more to spot in the background, from Splinter working in a pizza parlour, Foot Soldiers hiding behind cover and sliding at you, chain link fences and cityscapes, and holes in the environment leading to sewers and such, though the caves can be a bit of a mess. There are far more enemies onscreen at any one time thanks to those damnable Mouser holes and turrets, and you’ll still get an annoying beep when your health is low, and the ending is even sparser than in the first game. On the plus side, the music is much more varied and there are some fun in-game cinematics, such as Splinter piloting the turtle blimp, and options to move around in a wider area like in the arcade titles once you’re descending down the stairwell.
Enemies and Bosses: Surprising no one, you’ll primarily be battling against the Shredder’s inexhaustible army of robotic Foot Soldiers; they’ll jump in at you but actually managed to land a hit or two this time with their sliding kicks, dynamite, large projectiles, standing on each other’s shoulders, and firing bazookas at you. As indicated, the Mousers and bug ‘bots return; they might not bite your hand anymore but they are absolutely relentless, spawning so fast and so frequently that it’s hard to fend them off and progress through some stages. Roadkill Rodneys are also back, now firing laser bolts, and the game even includes a handful of mini bosses this time around; a swarm of Foot Soldiers, a Pizza Monster in the sewers, Baxter Stockman’s fly form on a rooftop, and the Game Boy debut of the Rock Warriors in General Traag and Granitor.
Each Act naturally concludes with a boss battle; each sports a life bar but they’re all just variations on the boss battles we saw in the last game. Once again, your first test is against Rocksteady; this time, he jumps about while Foot Soldiers drop objects from the windows above and shoots deflectable bullets at you, pausing to laugh and leaving himself open for your attacks. Bebop (and his ridiculously disproportinate head) awaits at the end of the bridge stage, firing out a spread of diamond projectiles and knocking you silly with an uppercut when he’s not hopping all over the place. Krang makes a rare appearance in his little walker at the end of Act 3, stomping about firing rings and raining bombs on the arena, and leaping overhead to try and crush you in a nigh-unavoidable attack. You’ll have rematch with the Shredder at the end of Act 4; this time, he fires an energy wave at you that you can jump over but not duck under, dives at you with a flying kick, and runs from one side of the screen to the other, meaning you’re basically guaranteed to take damage as the window of opportunity to dodge and counterattack is so small. Granitor confronts you in Act 5, rolling about the place and roasting you with his flamethrower, but the additional movement options afforded in this arena help to make this more manageable. When you get to the Technodrome in Act 6, you’ll have to battle General Traag to get inside the machine in a conflict made more troublesome by the 2D pane and the treadmill under foot. The Shredder mutates into his Super Shredder form for the penultimate boss, plodding about and swiping at you, teleporting about the place, and confusing you with a bevvy of duplicates to try and land a sneak attack. Finally, you’ll take on Krang’s android body in the finale; this time, Krang is nice and big and is able to stun you with a ground-shaking stomp, however he’s far weaker than in the last game and much easier to defeat than either of the Shredder fights in this game since you can just jump kick him and run underneath him when he’s jumping in for an attack.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As in the last game, your only pick-ups are the odd slice of pizza; these are sometimes carried by enemies and sometimes found floating around the environment, generally before a boss battle, but are noticeably rare and still the only power-up available.
Additional Features: Back from the Sewers trumps its Game Boy predecessor by including three difficult levels, but it’s still very limited in terms of in-game options. Luckily, the Cowabunga Collection awards a 70G Achievement for completing the game, offers a strategy guide to help with the game’s trickier sections, lets you view the game’s box art and manuals, includes both the Japanese and American versions, and offers various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the Game Boy’s headache-inducing screen). The game also allows you to rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper and you can take advantage of the enhancements to jump to any level you wish and enable infinite lives without fear of missing out on your Achievement.
The Summary: Undoubtably,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers is a vast improvement over the TMNT’s previous Game Boy title. If the first one was a pretty basic proof of concept, this sequel takes the capabilities of the handheld system and uses them to its advantage to produce a title that’s still very restricted by its hardware but much more akin to a 2D version of its arcade counterparts. While the sprites and animations are still a bit stiff and limited, they’re far more detailed, as are the backgrounds, and I loved how the game included versions of the sidescrolling chase sequences from the arcade games. Placing the bonus game sat the end of Acts was a nice way to break up the monotony and I enjoyed the improved music, cutscenes, and the expanded length; tossing in a few mini bosses also helped and it was just great to have so much to se happening around you. Unfortunately, it’s still not perfect; I don’t mind the loss of a turtle as a life system but the endless swarm of Mousers and bug ‘bots was needlessly frustrating and some of the bosses were almost impossible without full health. The strange loop system and slide kick were also odd inclusions, but the overall presentation was much improved and far more fitting for the license and the standards set by its technically superior counterparts. There are still better games on the Game Boy, and better TMNT videogames, however, but this one is a little bit more worth your time compared to its predecessor.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers included in your Game Boy library back in the day? How do you think it compares to the last TMNT Game Boy game? What did you think to the additional elements included from the arcade titles? Were you a fan of the overhauled sprites and backgrounds, and which character was your favourite? What did you think to those Mouser holes and the addition of mini bosses? Do you have any fond memories of the Game Boy? Whatever your thoughts, you can share the, in the comments section below or you can join the discussion on my social media.
Released: 4 March 1994 Developer: Granite Bay Software Also Available For: Game Gear, Game Boy, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
A Brief Background: After the conclusion of the the Gulf War, Mike Posehn took the air rescue mechanics of Choplifter (Dan Gorlin, 1982) and expanded upon them to create Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, a nonlinear, mission-based military title that placed players in a sandbox environment and did away with typical videogame mechanics like bosses and power-ups. When Desert Strike proved successful, producer Scott Berfield, game director John Manley, and associate producer Tony Barnes created a sequel that built upon the core mechanics of the original with new locations and vehicles. Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike (High Score Productions/Granite Bay Software, 1993) was also was wellreceived, despite criticisms of its difficulty curve, and a third entry was produced for the following year. Moving away from real-world conflicts and taking a slightly more futuristic slant, Urban Strike continued to refine the gameplay mechanics of the series while also mixing things up with sections that took place on foot, however many reviews reportedly found that the gameplay wasn’t innovative or different enough to be as interesting or engaging as it once was. Contemporary reviews echo this sentiment, criticising the game’s difficulty though none of this kept the series from continuing on for a couple moreentries.
First Impressions: Like the first two games, Urban Strike is a top-down, isometric shooter, now set in the far-flung future of 2001 and primarily playing in control of a Mohican helicopter to undertake some familiar missions across a variety of maps now exclusively based in the United States of America. As ever, you can customise your control scheme to your liking – the default settings see A fire your Hellfire missiles, B fire your Hydra Rockets, and C fire your chain gun – but the game now supports the Mega Drive’s six-button controller, which is super useful for the new drop feature that lets you dispose of cargo or smart bombs at the touch of a button. You can again choose to control your helicopter either with or without momentum to increase or decrease the realism of the gameplay, and select from various co-pilots, with some being more accurate or trigger happy and some missing in action and in need of rescue. So far, it’s all very familiar but, like Jungle Strike, you now have the option of taking the controls of two other vehicles: the much larger Blackhawk helicopter (which lakes Hellfire missiles and seems a bit slower but can hold twenty passengers rather than the usual six, making it perfect for the game’s many rescue missions) and the Ground Assault Vehicle (GAV), a heavily armoured transport that might be slow as all Hell but it can take a beating and deliver massive damage. While the game technically only has five campaigns, this number is increased by the newest gameplay feature, which sees you abandoning your vehicle and exploring labyrinthine facilities on foot!
Unfortunately, the grid-like control pattern makes these sections rather awkward; you’re also limited to your MX9 machine gun and have far less armour since your only protection is a flack vest, and the zoomed in isometric perspective causes the game’s otherwise impressive presentation to suffer in these rare sections. Luckily, opportunities to switch to other vehicles are much more frequent than in Jungle Strike, though I can’t say I was too impressed by the new vehicles on offer here. Similarly, your missions in each campaign are painfully similar to what’s come before; you start off in Hawaii (with three lives by default and again without any in-game music accompanying the action) and are tasked with destroying radar sites and stealth ships, rescuing Green Berets, and blowing up a bridge. Objectives also include transporting telescope mirrors to a barge, which means your winch is taken up carrying the object; if you press a button to drop your cargo, it’ll be lost, so I’m not really sure why this function was included (if you could drop it, pick up an ally, and then grab the object again it would make much more sense). The first map is pretty open and linear, with an abundance of fuel, armour, and ammo crates to be found; those you rescue will also repair some of your armour when you drop them off, which is helpful, though it’s still advised that you plan on optimal route to avoid running out of ammo or blowing up from lack of fuel. If you’re down in this manner, you’ll respawn with twenty-five units of fuel and full armour but you’ll get full fuel if you’re destroyed be enemy fire (though your weapons can only be replenished by ammo crates, so be careful not to accidentally destroy them!)
From the pause menu, you can again see a pretty useful map of the area and cycle between mission objectives, notable highlights, and review your mission and current status. If you destroy the wrong targets or fail to rescue or secure others in time, you’ll be forced to return to base to restart from the beginning, so there’s again a fair amount of trial and error required to properly progress. Campaigns also include some hidden side missions, such as rescuing innocents from shark attacks and such, which will net you bonus points. While the first campaign is pretty simple stuff even without the helpful ten lives cheat code, campaign two takes its queue from the final level of Desert Strike and has you securing heavily-defended oil rigs, rescuing survivors from a sinking cruise ship (you’ll definitely need the Blackhawk for that one!), and securing a friendly Russian submarine. It’s a slightly tougher mission, made all the more challenging by the fact that some of your missions won’t appear on the game map until you complete earlier ones; you can’t swing by the cruise ship or fend off the gunboats by the submarine, for example, until you’ve secured the drilling platforms. Things get a bit tougher when you head inside an aircraft hanger and must navigate the maze, taking out turret columns and destroying fighter jets before activating a beacon. You’re then given 120 seconds to escape, but there’s no onscreen countdown, which is super annoying, and additional enemies pop up to obstruct you as you race for the exit ladder.
My Progression: I believe this is my first time playing Urban Strike, but I went into it with a pretty fair idea of what to expect based on the last two games. Sadly, while the title screen is much improved and the explosion effects look a lot better this time around, things haven’t really progressed all that much; the graphics still have a fun, pseudo-3D feel but the cutscenes contain less animations than before and it feels like a bit of a step back from Jungle Strike in terms of variety and accessibility. Once again, there are no real bosses to speak of but you’ll counter more formidable and tougher enemy ships and helicopters as you progress; later missions have you commandeering a GAV to take out the heavily-armed militia or targeting bad guy Malone’s henchman as they speed away in cars, but you’ll face a similar assortment of turrets, jeeps, soldiers, and tank-like enemies as in the previous games.
While the on-foot sections are a bit ugly, the environments continue to be a vast improvement over Desert Strike, overall; the desert still crops up, naturally, but Urban Strike boasts cities, jungles, and even a pretty fun recreation of Las Vegas. Rendered in the black of night, the city is lit up by gunfire and explosions as much as the garish neon signs and let down only by the tedious objective of flying all over, avoiding enemy fire, to destroy a whole bunch of radar sites. After that, you’ll be struggling with your ammo as you’re forced to clear the Las Vegas Strip of enemies, and this mission proved to be too much for me in the end. But, truthfully, I’d tapped out in the previous mission; after destroying a bunch of guard towers and rescuing a bunch of prisoners of war in Mexico, the game required me to hack into the Gav to take control of one but, no matter what I tried, I kept picking the wrong fuse and was forced to abandon the mission. As before, the game is password-based; you get passwords to jump ahead to later campaigns, which is how I played the Las Vegas campaign, but you can’t input the ten lives code and then jump to a later level, and in-game extra lives are pretty scarce, so the difficulty curve was noticeably more like Desert Strike than Jungle Strike for me. It’s interesting for me, then, to learn that many reviews thought Urban Strike the easiest of the series so far; the missions are a little more tedious, often requiring you to rescue multiple targets, fend off waves of soldiers, or carry multiple objects from one point of the map to the other, which can be a drain on your resources. As ever, it’s thus important to plan your route and conserve your better weapons for when needed, but the shift towards more monotonous missions and the unsightly and awkward on-foot missions seems to have made the admittedly repetitive gameplay loop less exciting rather than injecting some variety to the formula.
So, again, I wasn’t quite able to finish Urban Strike; I did a lot better than with Desert Strike but I found the game to be a bit tougher than Jungle Strike, though I was surprised that I was even able to clear the second game. Although it’s just more of the same, with little in the way of gameplay or graphical progress or innovation, Urban Strike is still a really good game; the game is probably the smoothest of the three classics and the maps are all very distinct and much more interesting than being stuck in the desert but feel less visually interesting than in Jungle Strike. The two new vehicles area bit easier to control than those in the second game, but the Blackhawk is a bit too similar to the Mohican to really stand out and I really didn’t enjoy the on-foot sections, which were clunky and relied too much on maxes. Combat and gameplay are largely as exciting as ever, with lots to blow up and discover in each campaign; enemy fire can still destroy buildings and such, which is great, and it can be fun planning an optimal route to complete missions faster but, overall, this was just more of the same with little to really make it stand out from or surpass Jungle Strike.Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Urban Strike down in the comments or on my social media so please feel free to share your memories and opinions and check back in next Saturday for my thoughts on the fourth game in the franchise.
Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 3 August 1990 Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
The Background: Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, it was tough to find a franchise more popular than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles as we knew them in the UK); the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) cartoon and extensive toy line saw the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” dominate an entire generation. The TMNT were also prominent videogame characters thanks to the efforts of Konami, which saw them help to make the NES a household name here in the UK and produce two of the most beloved arcade games that also impressed on home consoles back in the day. Not content with their arcade and 8- and 16-bit titles, Konami also produced three handheld titles for Nintendo’s ground-breaking portable console, the Game Boy. Limited by the Game Boy hardware, Fall of the Foot Clan was obviously lacking in many areas and struggled to live up to the standards of its technically superior predecessors, though it was still praised for its ambitious attempt to give fans a portable TMNT experience. With a complete version of the title being pretty expensive for what it is, it was very much appreciated to see it included in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
The Plot: When their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, kidnaps April O’Neil, the TMNT emerge from the sewers to take on the Shredder’s Foot Clan once more.
Gameplay: Unlike most TMNT videogames at the time, Fall of the Foot Clan is a pretty simplistic sidescrolling action game; you pick from one of the four turtles and travel from left to right across five stages attack enemies with their signature weapons. The TMNT are even more indistinguishable from each other thanks to the Game Boy’s non-existent limited colour palette but are, as ever, identified by their weapons and the reach offered to them. Raphael gets up close and personal with foes with his sai, for example, while Donatello is afforded a greater reach with his longer bo staff, however this is so far the only TMNT game I’ve played that allows you to throw shuriken by default (and an infinite number to boot), thereby affording even the most limited ninja turtle a projectile attack. The controls are as simple as you could want; you press X to jump (and holding the button sees you jumping higher into a somersault) and A to attack. You can attack in mid-air and press down and A to toss your shuriken, but a big mechanic in this game is the ability to swat away most incoming projectiles with your attack, which is almost mandatory given the much smaller screen size of the Game Boy.
Gameplay is very restrictive and doesn’t really ask all that much of you other than to continue to the right, slashing at enemies as they jump at you, and avoiding the odd level hazard, such as falling blocks, bouncing balls, electrifying obstacles, and spiked ceilings. Here and there you’ll get the option to hop up to a higher level or wade through sewer water; you can destroy barriers to reach bosses, hop on and rush underneath pistons, jump over fire pits, and leap from log to log over a raging river. If your turtle runs out of health, they’ll be “captured” and you’ll have to pick another to tackle the stage again, though you’ll helpfully be placed at the start of the boss battle if you reached that point when you died. One mechanic Fall of the Foot Clan incorporates that separates it from pretty much all of the classic TMNT games is the presence of hidden bonus areas in every stage; these aren’t immediately obvious (though the strategy guide clearly highlights them for your benefit) and allow you to restore your health by guessing the number Master Splinter has in mind, fighting with Krang by eradicating as many stars as possible, or partaking in a bit of target shooting. You’re generally given a few chances to succeed at these but they’re not particularly inspired or fun or easy, though I appreciate the attempt to mix the simplistic gameplay up a bit with these little distractions.
Graphics and Sound: Naturally, you need to keep expectations low here; not only is Fall of the Foot Clan a Game Boy title, it’s an early game Boy title so it plays things very safe and doesn’t try to throw too much at the player or tax the game engine. The result is enemies leaping at you largely one at a time and barely launching an attack before you take them out in one hit and keeping the amount of onscreen action to a minimum, but there are a surprising number of little details that certainly make it somewhat ambitious. The TMNT don’t have idle animations and Leonardo and Raphael only have one weapon each rather than the usual two, but their weapons move as they walk, and Raphael and Michelangelo even twirl theirs as they plod along. When ensnared by a Roadkill Rodney, you’ll even see your turtle’s skeleton as they’re shocked and they get crushed by pistons and weights as well, all of which are nice little touches I wouldn’t really expect from such a limited title.
Environments aren’t really anything to shout about; stages are pretty long, consisting of a few different screens and transitioning from different areas as you progress, but there isn’t a great deal of detail in the background in environments like the Technodrome. At the same time, the streets have a bit going on, with graffiti and posters on the walls behind you, and you’re even able to hit a parking meter to use it as a projectile at one point. I also liked seeing the mountains in the background of Stage 4 but easily the most visually interesting stage is Stage 3, which sees you jumping across the backs of trucks and vehicles down a speeding highway. Sprites are all nice and big and certainly capture the essence of the cartoon; the Foot even drive past in a jeep at one point and the classic TMNT theme plays, with the rest of the chip tune soundtrack being very fitting to the franchise and the action. The game’s story is as basic as you could want and is told using some basic text under pretty decent sprite art recreating scenes from the cartoon. Unfortunately, the ending falls a little flat, with the Technodrome just disappearing from frame and the epilogue consisting of a bunch of text, and you’ll be assaulted be an incessant beeping when your health is low, which is always a pain.
Enemies and Bosses: You’ll never believe it but you’ll primarily be fighting off an endless supply of Foot Soldiers on your short journey; they’ll come jumping in and be reduced to a little explosion before even getting a chance to attack, but they’re capable of tossing darts and bricks at you but are largely disposable. Generic enemies like bats, fish, and anthropomorphic fireballs are also a problem, but the classic TMNT enemies like Mousers and Roadkill Rodneys are also present and capable of chomping on your hand and electrocuting you, respectively. Each stage naturally culminates in a boss battle against five of the TMNT’s most recognisable and popular villains, each of which is afforded a life bar.
The first boss you’ll battle is Rocksteady, who simply wanders across the screen blasting at you from his rifle; Bebop ups the ante by rushing at you in a charge, punching you up close, and firing rings from his pistol, but it’s not exactly a stretch to hop over them, swipe them with your weapon, or toss a shuriken their way. Baxter Stockman attacks in his fly form at the end of the all-too-brief Stage 4; he hovers overhead, firing projectiles at you, and swooping down in a dive, but again you can just jump over him and attack without too much difficulty. In a change of pace, the Shredder is encountered as a penultimate boss rather than the final battle; he can be a bit tricky if you go in with low health, advancing towards you and swiping with his katana before teleporting to safety after. This means that Krang is the game’s final challenge; he emerges in his android body from a transport wall and stomps about, completely immune to your shuriken and trying to kick you in the face. While he’s quite a large target and he likes to jump about, you can again jump over him and attack him and whittle his health down if you stay in a good rhythm.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As ever, the TMNT can restore their health by picking up the odd slice of pizza; these are sometimes dropped by enemies and sometimes found floating around the environment, occasionally before a boss battle, but are noticeably infrequent and are the only power-up you’ll find in the game.
Additional Features: Unlike most TMNT videogames, there’s no two-player option here; in fact, there aren’t any options to speak of in the base game, not even a difficulty mode or any sound options. Thankfully, the Cowabunga Collection remedies that, awarding you a 70G Achievement for completing the game and allowing you to view the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, and apply various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the feeling of playing on the Game Boy’s eye-watering screen). The enhancements not only allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, but you can also choose to practice the bonus games if you want to bump up your health in your next playthrough.
The Summary: I don’t like to throw too much shade at Game Boy titles, especially early ones, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan really isn’t all that impressive or fun to play through. There are some ambitious and admirable elements here and there, don’t get me wrong; the odd bit of animation, the ability to throw shuriken, the attempt at variety in the stages are all positives and I liked how it did the best it could with the hardware limitations to adapt the aesthetic of the cartoon. However, there’s no denying that this is a far too simple effort to really give it too high a score, especially compared not only to the obviously better arcade and home console TMNT games but also the later Game Boy titles. This feels like a proof of concept to show that a simple sidescrolling action game can be cobbled together with the license rather than an attempt to really try anything too innovative with the platform. Throwing in bonus games was a nice, if frustrating, touch and there was even some call-backs to the superior arcade titles here and there, but the TMNT would definitely be represented far better in subsequent Game Boy games and I can’t see myself going back to this one over the other TMNT games included in the Cowabunga Collection.
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Did you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan in your Game Boy library back in the day? What did you think to gameplay and presentation of the game, especially regarding its simple sidescrolling format? Which of the characters was your favourite to play as and which boss was the most exciting for you? Were you able to beat the bonus games? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite Game Boy title? I have a comments section down below where you can share your opinions on the TMNT’s Game Boy debut, or you can start the discussion on my social media.
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.
Gameplay: 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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.
Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 12 May 1989 Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayChoice-10, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, ZX Spectrum
The Background: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK) were the in thing for kids in the eighties or nineties thanks, largely, to the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) cartoon and an extensive toy line. A couple of years before Konami brought the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” to the arcades, the developers helped to make the NES a household name here in the UK with this adventure title, produced at a time when videogames (especially those on Nintendo’s ground-breaking platform) were built to last by ramping up their difficulty. Reportedly the first TMNT product to release in Japan, the game suffered from glitches and exploits across all its versions and is often cited as one of the hardest NES games of all time thanks, largely, to it featuring in an early episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd. regardless, the game was a huge success at the time and sold over four million copies worldwide despite mixed reviews, with some praising the controls and graphics and others flagged the lack of polish and recognisable elements from the franchise. Although readily available at the time on a variety of consoles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been pretty difficult to come by after being removed from the Wii Shop Channel in 2012, that is until this Cowabunga Collection released for modern consoles alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
The Plot: The Turtles are on a mission to retrieve the Life Transformer Gun from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, who has kidnapped their friends and is terrorising New York City with bombs, ninjas, and his army of robots.
Gameplay: Unlike the vast majority of TMNT videogames, the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title is a 2D, sidescrolling action platformer that allows you to switch between the four titular turtles at any time via the pause screen. Being as it was an NES title, your controls and options are somewhat limited, but also effective; X sees you attacking with your turtle’s signature weapon and A allows you to jump, and you can both hold A for a higher and longer jump and attack while in mid-air or crouching. The TMNT are separated not only by the colour of their bandanas but by the range, speed, and power of their weapons; Donatello has the longest reach and is great for dispatching enemies above or below with his bo staff, for example. He and Raphael also seem to dish out more damage, destroying some enemies in one hit that would take Leonardo and Michelangelo two or three, however Leo and Mike have better options for attack with an arc or a swing. You’ll also comes across a number of secondary weapons with limited ammo, which you can switch to using the Xbox controller’s ‘View’ button and will find some pick-ups that activate automatically to carry you across gaps. Each turtle has their own health bar, and the game “helpfully” alerts you when you’re at low health by emitting a warning wound, so you’ll need to switch between them to get past trickier sections with fire pits and the like. If a turtle’s health is depleted, he’ll be captured and unplayable until found and rescued, though it’s game over if all four are captured.
The game is split into two very distinct sections; the first is a top down overworld, a recreation of New York City and the surrounding district, which is split into six areas that act as the stages of the game. Here, you can wander about, attacking enemies and avoiding larger vehicles such as Roller Cars, carpet-bombing fighter jets, and helicopters with search lights. At one point, you’ll hop into the turtles’ Party Wagon, which allows you to blast at Roller Cars and enemies on the overworld with X, though you’ll need to search for a handful of high-powered missiles to destroy barriers with X and progress further. The second part of the game is the 2D, sidescrolling action stages, which are accessed via manholes placed all over the overworld or by entering certain buildings. These drop you into claustrophobic sewers, aircraft hangers, enemy warehouses, and robot factories and see you navigating past enemies, hazards, and tricky jumps to small blocks or platforms to either progress, find health and pick-ups, rescue a comrade, or access new areas, like the rooftops and caves. Not only to enemies respawn when you leave the screen for just a second, but hazards are numerous; you’ll be stuck on conveyor belts, walking across some smaller gaps and trying to jump across others to tiny blocks, and hopping over spike and lava pits. At some points, you’ll be dumped back onto the outside if you fall while jumping across the rooftops or landing in the raging sewer waters, and you’ll also have to contend with spiked ceilings and instant-kill crushing spiked walls near the end of the game. Easily the game’s most infamous section is encountered pretty early on when, after reaching the damn, you’re given 2:20 to navigate an underwater section full of electrical bolts and electrifying seaweed in search of eight bombs to disarm. While it’s true that this is a difficult section thanks to the unfair hit boxes, the tight time limit, and the labyrinthine nature of the section, it’s made all the easier with the Cowabunga Collection’s rewind feature and you can tank through some of it using well-timed character swaps.
Graphics and Sound: Since it’s an NES title, the graphics are obviously somewhat dated; the top-down sections on the overworld aren’t great, with movement being noticeably clunky, and the game’s reliance on mazes and looping paths can get annoying when you’re stumbling around the airport trying to find the correct path or dodging searchlights in the dark to find the right manhole. The variety in these top-down locations is appreciated, though; you’re in the city, visit a dam, pop along the JFK Airport, and infiltrate the Shredder’s secret base under cover of darkness, and the game opens with a pretty ambitions character introduction screen and is accompanied by some fitting chip tunes to help ease even the most annoying sections, and each stage ends with a rendition of the TMNT theme to punctuate your victory. When you pause the game, you’ll get access to a pretty basic grid-like map that isn’t much help but it’s better than nothing; April O’Neil and Splinter will also offer some limited advice to give you an idea of what you’re looking for or how to defeat the game’s bosses, but these features are stripped from you in the final area as you’re “lost”.
The 2D sections are where the game shines since you can actually see the TMNT in action, though the actual sprites obviously don’t emote or animate all that much unless they’re being swept away by the current. Mostly, the controls work just fine; you’re generally restricted in your horizontal and vertical movement so it’s rare that you have to make precise jumps but, when you do, they have to be pretty bang-on. Hit boxes are quite big, which is an issue in such close quarters, and backgrounds can be disappointingly bland and repetitive; all that separates one sewer section from another is the amount of brown and green, for example, so it can be easy to get lost, especially in sections that have to warping about trying to find the right exit. Things pick up a bit as you progress, with large background elements being used as static boss sprites, and you can avoid any slowdown or sprite flickering by turning them off with the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements (though a fair amount still remains, perhaps unavoidably). The game’s story is primarily told through limited text and some art portraits, but the game doesn’t include any credits and it’s a bit cheap how the enemies constantly respawn but the health items and other pick-ups don’t, meaning you sometimes have to backtrack into dangerous areas to restock your health and ammo.
Enemies and Bosses: Considering the source material has a near inexhaustible cast of characters to choose from, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features some truly bizarre and misplaced enemies; I may not be able to remember every TMNT character but I could barely recognise any of the enemies encountered here, with the shuriken-throwing Foot Soldiers and the Mousers being the most familiar for me. There are some really weird baddies here, ones that are far too generic for a TMNT game and sadly symptomatic of this era of gaming; we’ve got robot bugs, spider-like jumpers, flaming men who spit out smaller minions, a large porcupine that shoots spines at you, a big bald asshole with a chainsaw, flying eye drones, this weird blank slate of a humanoid who becomes invulnerable when crouched down, another bald asshole who tosses boomerangs, crawling eyes, giant mutated frogs and fleas, and some truly aggravating Dimension X Troopers who hover about firing lasers right at you, no matter where you are, and always attack in groups! Some of these enemies will act as mini bosses, gaining a health bar and teaching you their attack patterns and such, but most of the time they’ll swarm the screen just to annoy you and screw up your jumps.
Each stage of the game ends in a boss battle, generally with the life of one of the TMNT’s allies at stake; Bebop goes solo in this game as Rocksteady is holding April hostage, though he attacks in very much the same way as he always does, by charging at you with a head of steam, punching you when you get close, and jumping at you with a kick. It’s pretty simple to stay at the right side of the screen, jumping up to where Rocksteady and April are to avoid Bebop’s limited attacks, and smack him with your weapons. Rocksteady gets in on the action at the end of the warehouse stage and follows very much the same pattern; while April sits all tied up, Rocksteady charges at you with his horn, tries to jump at you, and fires bullets at you. However, you can destroy these projectiles, which is always helpful, and you can absolutely cheese this by hopping on top of the crates on the right-hand side and using Donatello’s crouch attack to defeat him without taking a single hit! When you finally figure out where the rope is and how to get across the rooftops, you’ll find Splinter held hostage by a dark version of Leonardo; this guy attacks exactly as Leo would when you play as him, with sword swipes and such, but draining his health reveals that he was the “Mecaturtle” (not to be confused with Metalhead…) all along. The Mecaturtle hovers about using its rocket boots and fires homing missiles at you, punching when up close, but there’s a lot of room to dodge and land hits.
After fighting through the Shredder’s robot factory, you’ll battle one of the more visually impressive bosses of the game – a giant Mouser that’s rendered as a background element and reminds me of the titular war machine from the original Metal Gear (Konami, 1987). While it looks intimidating, its lack of movement and predictability make this a pretty easy boss; it fires twin laser beams from its eyes that are simple to avoid, the smaller Mousers it drops are easily defeated, and you can easily smash away at the weak point in its mouth using Donatello’s ridiculously long bo staff. Naturally, you’ll eventually make your way to the Technodrome, which also acts as a large, impressive, and formidable boss battle; the humongous machine idles along on its treadmill base, frying you with electrical currents from its front and back spokes and protected by two turrets and an endless supply of Foot Soldiers. You need to fight against the pull of the treadmill, fend off the ninjas, and attack the Technodrome’s giant eye to eventually blow open an entrance, but this is easily the toughest and cheapest boss battle in the game. Once you fight your way through the insanity of the Technodrome, the game ends with a one-on-one encounter with the Shredder; after teleporting in with a burst of lightning, he jumps about the enclosed arena trying to punch you and firing deadly shots from his one-hit-jill de-evolution pistol. However, it’s laughably easy to avoid this and stay out of his way, especially with Donatello, and you can even trap him in a corner using Leo’s rapid sword swings to make short work of the would-be-conqueror.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As ever, you’ll occasionally find pizza strewn about in the 2D sections to refill either two bars of your health with a slice, four with half a pizza, and the entire bar with a whole pizza. Like all of the game’s items, these are quite rare and hard to track down thanks to the maze-like nature of the levels, and you’ll need to remember to switch to a turtle with low health when you spot one to keep everyone in tip-top condition. You can also find a turtle-face icon that looks like its should be an extra life but actually grants your temporary invincibility and puts you into an awkward frenzy. In one specific area of the game, you’ll also need to track down missiles for the Party Wagon to destroy the barrier son the overworld, though you can just about get by with one load of ten if you plan your route and shots correctly. Areas three and four also hide the rope item, which you’ll need to automatically cross large gaps across rooftops in area four.You can also pick up additional weapons, which you can switch to with the ‘View’ button and which act as projectiles, with each having a limited amount of ammo. Sometimes enemies will drop additional ammo, but mostly you’ll just stumble upon the weapons out in the open in 2D sections and they’re extremely effective, killing many enemies in one hit. You can grab shurikens, tossing either one or a triple-shuriken spread for maximum coverage, a boomerang, and a “kaiai”, which fires out a powerful energy wave.
Additional Features: In a change from most TMNT videogames, there’s no two-player option here; in fact, there aren’t any options to speak of in the base game, not even a difficulty mode or any sound options. Luckily, the Cowabunga Collection remedies that, awarding a 70G Achievement for completing the game and allowing you to view the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, and apply various borders and display options. While the enhancements only allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, you can still rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, and choose to watch the game play itself if that’s your jam.
The Summary: I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the TMNT’s first venture onto the NES. It helped that I knew all about some of its more frustrating and obscure moments thanks to watching the Angry Video Game Nerd and the reputation that game as earned over the years online as one of the most difficult NES titles. While the game’s presentation and execution are a bit janky, opting for a restrictive and confusing 2D sidescroller rather than a mindless beat-‘em-up, I liked that each turtle was selectable at any time and shared their own health and weapons. While they all control the same, they’re made unique by their individual weapons, which can be particularly game-breaking in certain situations, and I liked the top-down sections of the game, despite how confusing it can be to navigate at times. What lets the game down is the oddball nature of the enemies on show; it’s almost as if this could’ve been any NES action game as the enemies are decidedly off-brand for the TMNT, and the environments just aren’t detailed or distinctive enough to really make an impact or make best use of the license. The respawning enemies and labyrinthine gameplay certainly add to the game’s difficulty; some of the enemies are needlessly cheap and make it extremely difficult to not take damage. However, I enjoyed the boss battles, especially the presentation of the giant Mouser and the Technodrome, and it’s fun to add a little more depth to the TMNT beyond just repetitively pummelling enemies. Tense, frustrating, and head scratching at times, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a fair amount of action packed into it for such a limited title and it’s definitely worth checking out, especially with the enhancements offered by the Cowabunga Collection, which definitely reduce the challenge offered by this influential NES title.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a part of your NES library back in the day? What did you think to gameplay and presentation of the game, especially regarding its maze-like aspects? Which of the characters was your favourite to play as and which boss was the most exciting for you? Were you able to make it through the underwater section? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite challenging game from the NES days? I have a comments section down below where you can share your opinions on this classic NES title, or you can start the discussion on my social media.