#2: Action Fighter (1986 Sega)

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As we now delve into the SMS catalog, I want to point out one of the things that hampered the Master System through the first two years of its life which was the poor box art for their games. Over on the NES side Nintendo and the third party publishers knew the importance of good box art to grab the attention of potential consumers and made sure their carts had some cool, eye-catching design for their boxes. So what does Sega do for thier releases? A rather plain white-grid background, the game title in a somewhat boring font with a subhead proclaiming what mega type the cart was, and a simple clipart image in the bottom left corner that gives a vague description of what the game is about. I don’t know how a pic of a motorcycle’s rear-view mirror showing a street behind it (at least that’s what I think it is) is supposed to let you know this is a vechicular shooting game.

And you thought the Pacific Coast Highway was dangerous.

And you thought the Pacific Coast Highway was dangerous.

Anyway this cart is loosely tied to a Sega arcade title of the same name and can be best described as a near relative of Spy Hunter that mixes in a little Xevious. You’re some sort of secret agent for some government agency tasked with carrying out a set of five missions against some sort of enemy force (none of which is really specified). Each level has a “road” phase and an “air” phase, with the road phase unfolding just like the aforementioned Spy Hunter. Once you enter your name on the opening screen you take control of a special attack vehicle that starts off as a motorcycle and zoom down the highway shooting at the enemy vehicles in your way as a timer ticks down to zero. While the enemy cars will either try to shoot you or ram you off the road, you also have to watch out for the highway itself which curves and often splits into two roads before recombining. Every so often a weapons van red Sega truck will drive up and successfully docking with it will increase your firepower (a much-needed upgrade to survive), give you surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the choppers and make your tempoarily invinicble. Also as you blast the cars, the letters A-B-C-D will drift down the road and collecting all four letters will convert your bike into a sports car. Plus you can switch back and forth between the car and cycle by pushing both buttons and while the bike is more manuverable and a smaller target, the car won’t get knocked around so easily.

A sports car versus a couple of tanks. Place your bets.

A sports car versus a couple of tanks. Place your bets.

 

After a while the letters E and F appear and collecting those two will eventually add wings to your car, converting it into a jetcraft so you take to the sky for the “air” part which is reminiscent of Xevious. You have the same primary weapon as the car to take on the waves of aerial enemies that fly by but now you have bombs to handle the ground-based targets also gunning after you. You don’t get the Sega truck in the air obviously but every so often a colored ‘P’ dot will drift by to serve the same functions. Eventually you’ll come to the end where you face off against the thing you’ve been sent to destroy in that level, and if you can complete your objective you move on to the next mission. The controls work fine and maneuvering your vehicle is no problem but the game forces you to mash the button for any sort of rapid fire.

Battling aerial baddies in my car-jet.

Battling aerial baddies in my car-jet.

The gameplay is enjoyable but has a few hiccups, especially with the difficulty level. It’s really hard to get through unschated and once you crash you start your next life without any upgrades you gathered, leaving you with your default weapon. While the timer is active you can bite it any number of times and still continue the level, but once the timer reaches zero you have a very limited amount of lives to complete your mission. Thankfully if you somehow beat the boss you start the next mission with a fresh timer. Unfortunately while Sega’s idea of merging the two shooter types keeps this from being simply a Spy Hunter clone, the flying segments drag the game down slighty as they feel like they run a little too long and are very repetitious with the enemies coming at you with the same patterns over and over, making you wish you had more time with the much-funner and faster paced road segments. In addition the air battles are more frustrating since most of the targets requre too many of your normal shots to kill, leaving you little option but to just dodge their shots and pray for the weapon power-up to stand a chance. Also some of the air enemies such as the missiles are just plain annoying to deal with.

The graphics are pretty nice, as all the sprites are detailed and there’s bright colors everywhere, but the scenery in all five levels is the same whether on the road or in the air and it gets boring seeing it over and over. Some different locales for each level would have been a welcome feature. Ditto for the audio which consists of one looping background track that gets on your nerves after a short time, though you do get a decent intro theme and a nice ditty when you confront the boss of each level. The sound effects aren’t much either; you get a fun crash sound or explosion but other than that it’s the usual bleeps and bloops.

Overall Action Fighter is a decent game for a part Spy Hunter/part Xevious clone but had some variety been sprinkled in the audio, visuals and gameplay and had the flying segments been toned down it could have been a great title. As is it still provides some nice arcade action for an occasional Sega session.

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