Shoot ’em up
Max Payne is the kind of game that will make your reconsider the “family-friendly” tag often associated with the GBA. Whereas many of the handheld’s titles revolve around the cutesy conundrums of one affable plumber, Rockstar was far more concerned with creating a quality adaptation of the PC and console hit, slapping a mature rating on the newly-designed game in the process. It remains a story-driven shooter, pitting an undercover New York cop framed for murder against both the police and the mob, while boasting an overhead vantage point designed around the GBA’s capabilities. All the characters are also real-time 3D objects, enhancing the fluid animation and creating dynamic environments that give the title an increased sense of the depth unlike most on the GBA.
And Max Payne isn’t just a shooter, though there are plenty of grenades, clubs, and shotguns to go around. The title and pair narration is seamlessly interwoven with puzzle elements, requiring players to flip switches and trigger assorted gameplay elements throughout each of the title’s 12 storyline missions. Although the game’s run-and-gun aspect can prove challenging and tedious at times, initiating the franchise’ iconic Bullet Time feature with a simple tap of the right trigger is an absolute necessity for retaining all four lives. Time slows to a crawl once enabled, allowing Payne to dodge bullets and cake the walls with his enemies’ blood, one superhuman dive at a time. It’s short, but hey, that’s what unlockables are for right?
Doom’s narrative is as shallow as a petri dish, barely qualifying as a cohesive storyline: Mars-based researchers have unearthed a portal to hell and you’re the only space marine left alive who can kill off the legions of hellspawn who erupted through said portal. Yet it was a forerunner in the world of first-person shooters, a venerable catalyst in the shareware market, and to be blunt about it, just a thrilling and kickass game that’s been ported to nearly every system since it debuted all those moons ago. The GBA version is an almost identical, horror-blazoned testament to the id Software’s original, chronicling the journey of one space marine (aka the unnamed “Doomguy”) as he dismantles an overwhelming legion of hellish aliens aboard a slew of deep-space colonies and finally into hell itself. The graphics and animation are astonishingly smooth, the framerate virtually unhindered, and the environments just as pixelated as ever. Controls, notably those for aiming and horizontal strafing, also remain sensitive and tight — a huge sigh of relief for players of the original title.
Doom has always been defined by the nuances and dreary atmosphere perforating the gameplay. Objects and enemies scuffling in the background may seem blurry at times due the reduced resolution, but the hesitation to open a door for fear of what lies behind remains completely intact amid the dark recesses of game’s three worlds. All the telltale weapons of series’ past return, such as the shotgun and ballsy BFG 9000, and the title even features competitive multiplayer and co-op modes via a link cable. Considering it’s an FPS, it’s violent and appropriately bloody, strewn with hidden rooms, puzzles and an overall, clever level design. Admittedly though, we’d be lying if we said your entrance to nearly every room wasn’t the same: frantic and guns blazing.
The infamous Neo Geo console didn’t exactly leave a resounding legacy when it quietly shuttered in ’97. However, the system’s contribution and spurring of the beloved Metal Slug franchise can almost been seen as a run-and-gun landmark in the world of action shooters. With Metal Slug Advance, players choose one of two starting characters, either Walter Ryan or Tyra Elson, and immediately drop into the first mission armed with merely a pistol and bundle of grenades. Afterward, you simply run, jump and fire your throw five increasingly difficult levels of non-stop gameplay, rescuing POWs along the way and fighting waves up waves of encroaching enemies and larger-than-life bosses. The multilayered, 2D backdrops are a timeless feat, whether ascending snow-capped peaks or trudging through arid deserts, and the humorous animation still set the title apart from similar offerings.
As with any Metal Slug game, Advance features a collection of aptly titled weapons, each accompanied with a hallmark voice clip announcing the respective weapon whenever you pick it up. While jumping into a tank or chopper will provide you with a bit of extra protection, it doesn’t instill that exceptionally-gratifying feeling you get when you hear the words “rocket launcher” or “super grenade” come tumbling out of your speaker system. Although the game is regrettably short and excludes two-player co-op like most titles in the series, its replay value lies in retrieving scattered cards, collectables that unlock additional vehicles, levels, stats and other bonuses if you manage to skate through the level unscathed. Great arcade titles are known for their accessibility, not their storytelling or depth, and Metal Slug is no different.
Electronic Art’s Medal of Honor franchise was once the king of war-orientated, first-person shooters well before Call of Duty and Battlefield became the go-to titles. However, Medal of Honor: Infiltrator wasn’t the same title as those fleshed out on the Playstation 2 and GameCube, nor was it the subpar port of Medal of Honor: Underground that haphazardly landed on the GBA around the same time. Infiltrator is not exactly a first-person shooter in a traditional sense — the top-down vantage point is more akin to the old-school Commando than what you’re most likely familiar with — but the WWII title still captures many of same elements that have become synonymous with the series. The wartime romp runs on the short side, throwing players into a series of Allied missions in Northern Africa, yet the gameplay is dynamically varied enough it always feels fresh.
Different weapon configurations are tailored to fit individual playing styles in respect to range, ammunition and other weapon facets, while stealth gameplay also finds a home in the form of sneaking about and hiding from enemy forces. Missions objectives range from locating classified documents and destroying pivotal buildings, all of which are rely on your strafing abilities and whether you can land an enemy within your aiming sights — which is restricted to merely eight directions. Despite the game’s top-down viewpoint, players will also take shotgun in the gunnery seat of various vehicles and turrets, shooting down enemies in first-person. Although Infiltrator‘s multiplayer co-op is no COD: Ghosts, it’s an enticing cherry atop an already-solid action title.
Duke Nukem is a brash, filterless dude. With Duke Nukem Advance, developers Torus Games and 3D Realms brought the hyper-masculine hero to the small screen, bringing his wise-cracking one-liners and hand-drawn cutscenes with him. Grounded in pixelated first-person action, the game looks and plays much like the aforementioned Doom, quickly shoving Duke through 19 levels spanning four primary locations, including an Australian shopping mall and an orbiting alien mothership. The story isn’t all that enthralling to begin with, but it’s classic Duke, setting the macho protagonist against a host of aliens seeking to clone Earth’s most attractive woman and eradicate the rest of the planet’s population.
The core of the game is straightforward and purposive, essentially requiring you to sidestep into a room and unleash on droves of humanoid boars and mutants, while amassing freezethrowers, shrink rays and the like in the process. Nevertheless, puzzle and platformer elements trickle in on each level, requiring the player to nab a set of keys or flip several switches before timing a precise jump over a pool of molten lava or a gaping pit. The controls worked well once learned properly, allowing you to quickly swap weapons weapons and fire with ease, and the title even features the ability to look up and down in addition to standard side-to-side motions — a GBA first. In the end, Duke Nukem Advance is an admirable companion to its PC counterpart, a turbo-charged shooter with plenty of personality to spare. Alas, you’ll find no strippers or urination scenes this time around.
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