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Friday, May 11, 2012

Retro Review: Ikari III The Rescue (PS Minis)

A throwback to a time when cartridges cost $100 each and hand to hand combat was innovative.

SNK really has the stable of classic titles under its belt doesn't it? From fighting games to side-scrollers (and vertical scrollers) I'm sure pretty much any gamer who's old enough to have spent time in an arcade (or a local greasy pizza shop) in the late '80s/early '90s has more than a few good memories of the brand.

As far as the Ikari Warriors series goes, I remember the ports that graced the NES and that's about it. Playing through the original Ikari was a particularly grueling experience that may or may not have permanently scarred my psyche, but I digress.

Ikari III: The Rescue, I have absolutely no memory of at all. So when the chance came to review the PS Mini port, I jumped at it. It's part of a pretty classic series after all, I kind of had to play it- and I'm glad I did. It actually makes me feel better about my younger gaming self knowing that these games were every bit as hard as I remember.

I feel like I'm fighting upstream here...
I3's hook is that it, unlike its predecessors, places a very heavy emphasis on unarmed combat. There are guns available, so don't think this is Double Dragon, but there aren't that many scattered about and they have extremely limited ammo. They're just kind of there to unload onto armored vehicles. When was the last time you saw a single mag from a machine gun finish off an APC?

I don't know what military outfit keeps sending its soldiers into battle unarmed, but it just doesn't seem very practical. Not only are the enemies mostly sans guns, but you start that game that way as well. It seems like a bad idea considering what's at stake too. The (extremely simple) story is pretty straightforward- there's a hostage, you need to rescue (hence the name) them. And that's pretty much all you need to know when you start out.

The enemy's main force is not limited to one truck
Mainly, you'll be kicking and punching your way through waves and waves of baddies who relentlessly gang up on you and beat you into the dirt (it's over Johnny). But even though this is a tough little title, it's also kind of fun. To the game's credit, I enjoyed it almost in spite of myself as I came back over and over again just to try and make it past one more wave.

Ikari III is fun much in the way that a classic platformer like Mega Man is, and yet can be unforgiving and at times even brutal. Adding to that nastiness is one of the original game's biggest hooks- the rotating stick. The arcade version apparently featured a stick that rotated to turn your character. Sound odd? It kind of was.

The idea is that as you turn your stick, your character would turn to face the enemies that poured onto the screen. How is that done here? By using the L and R buttons. It's in no way intuitive and does take more than a bit of getting used to, but the method actually emulates the original control style pretty well.

At times it can make the game unnecessarily difficult, but that was the way it was meant to be played and if you changed it, it just wouldn't be the same. That's just not what SNK was looking to do here. They were shooting for a 'true' arcade experience and that's what they got.

The graphics in Ikari III look pretty faithful to the arcade too and are a good deal better than the NES edition (I looked it up). All the sprites look cool and have a semi-realistic style that was a departure for the series at the time. It's got a real Rambo feel to it, which is awesome for any child of the '80s. Animation is decent. It's spot on as to how the technology at the time looked, which means it's not going to impress all that much if you're used to more modern stuff. Hey, this is an almost 25 year old game here- have a care.

Be ready to do a lot of high kicking
Ikari III also supports a 2 player mode, which I did not try out. I imagine though, that having a partner to watch your back would make things way easier. Just the idea of fighting back to back would have made some of the earliest areas in the game much more palatable.

If you're a 'modern gamer' and have no idea what it feels like to stand in a crowded arcade/pizza parlor/comic book shop and dump buckets of quarters into a single machine you might not be into the experience that I3 offers. You're also dead to me- but you might not like this game either.

It's tough, a little bit hard to play, and drenched in 1989. Ikari III: The Rescue is definitely worth a play though, if for nothing else than to see how much the action genre has changed over the two and a half decades since it was released.

-Jason M


Retro Review: Ikari III The Rescue (PS Minis)
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