I feel sorry for kids today. The late 80s, early 90s, weren’t just a manlier era in terms of movies, but also in terms of video games. And 16 bit consoles didn’t come much better than Sega’s Mega Drive, or Genesis, if you prefer. What follows is a list of the 5 toughest games which I’d recommend over pretty much anything on the X-Box, Playstation or modern gaming PC. These games are the reasons I still don’t own an X Box.
In this game you play an unnamed soldier who’s made it his business to reclaim the alien-devastated Forgotten World for its rightful owners – the human beings. It’s a horizontal scrolling shooter where you fly around, rotating your fire 360 degrees, to take out all manner of reptilian thugs in a futuristic world ravaged by extraterrestrial invaders. As you lay waste to the enemy hordes, you’ll want to collect as much ‘zenny’ as you can, because it’s vital if you want to upgrade your weapons, armour and health. Like most of these games, it’s the more fun if you play with a friend, especially in this case because it’s a tough bastard of a game and you’ll need someone watching your back if you’re going to stand a chance of making it through to the end.
A recent discovery, this one’s what you might call a hidden gem. Although the Japanese box art would suggest otherwise, the year is 1972. In an oddly silent pre-game sequence, a fighter jet crashes in the jungles of Eastern Asia and the pilot is quickly surrounded by enemy soldiers. Cut to 20 years later and you’re the pilot, busting your way out of a POW camp deep in the jungle. Using machine guns and flamethrowers you single-handedly take on an army of piss-ant soldiers John Matrix style. The action includes blowing up tanks and shooting planes and helicopters out of the sky, as well as mowing down hundreds of puny hostiles. 50 Cal. offers fast past action with a pulse pounding score to boot. I particularly appreciate the way the player automatically tosses a grenade after each volley of fire – that’ll sort ’em out.
Streets of Rage
Many consider Streets of Rage 2 to be the ultimate 16-bit brawler and whilst it’s undoubtedly good, and better in terms of sprites, the first one will always occupy a special place in my heart. Play as Adam, Axel or Blaze, three ex-cops who’ve quit the force and decided to take back the streets of their beloved city the old-fashioned way, by beating the shit out of the mob one man at a time over eight action packed levels until they’re kicking down the boss’ door to have a little chat with him personally. The gameplay never gets old. The music is perfect. You’ll love smashing bottles over people’s heads, hitting them with bats or pipes and stabbing them as well. Streets of Rage boasts some quirky boss fights, such as the fire spewing sumo wrestlers, Edward Krueger-hands and the all-out wrestlers. And the boss fights are accompanied by the best fight music in video game history. Weren’t they supposed to be making a film based on this? Fuck it, I had the same idea 20-odd years ago and even wrote a script for it when I was about 10. Incidentally, the 1994 film “Streets of Rage” starring martial artist Mimi Lesseos is unrelated to the games. It’s criminal that this series hasn’t been given an official sequel in all this time, but I’ve heard that the fan-produced remake which is out there (despite Sega’s treacherous attempts to bury it) is very good.
A Mega Drive staple this one, you play a centurion resurrected from the grave by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena who has been abducted by a demon. Kick and punch your way through zombies and various other ghouls. Along the way you collect power ups which boost your strength and physically beef your guy up until he looks like Mr Universe, before transforming into were-creatures such as wolves, bears and dragons, each with their own special ability that makes the fighting much easier and gives the gameplay some good variety. This game got a lot of stick from certain sources back in the day, even being given the top spot in a list of the ten worst Mega Drive games ever. But I’ve always stood by it. It is, at the very least, decent.
From Makoto Uchida, creator of Altered Beast, this was basically the video-game of Red Sonja as far as I was concerned. It’s like Streets of Rage but with a medieval fantasy setting. You can play as Ax Battler (Lord Kalidor), Tyris Flare (Red Sonja), or Gillius Thunderhead, the dwarf. He didn’t appear in Red Sonja. The third playable character should’ve been that fat guy with a bone. Here, instead of knuckle headed, denim clad street thugs you fight sword wielding skeletons and lizard men. And rather than calling on your buddy with a bazooka for back up, you use magic attacks. As side-scrolling beat em ups go, this game’s brilliant and so was the sequel that followed. The third one was less memorable, but there’s an arcade only sequel called Revenge of Death Adder which is very well made and worth seeking out.