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Up from (Super) Obscurity

This week's game is another treasure from the "I've heard it's sort of a mediocre insert name of popular game here knock-off" collection, thus I both bought it and semi-un-ironically love it.
From the same team who regionalized Street Combat, I present you with:
GUNFORCE:
BATTLE FIRE ENGULFED TERROR ISLAND
You had me at 'Battle Fire Engulfed Terror Island'
Right off the bat, this game's title screen rewards the player by going "Japanese-style," with a lovely nonsensical subtitle! But man can not live by subtitle alone, so let's see what sort of game lurks under the hood:
Ah, a run-and-gun Contra clone. You know the drill:
  1. Run, jump and shoot at endless streams of foot soldiers,
  2. one bullet will instantly slay your highly-trained commando,
  3. occasionally a power-up gives you a different kind of gun,
  4. every now and then a jeep or tank rumbles towards you, and you have a limited amount of time to blow it up before it runs you over,
  5. ...and at the end of every level you shoot at glowing spots on a huge fortress wall with guns glued to it,
  6. Then do it again on the next level.
All in all, I don't think GUNFORCE: Battle Fire Engulfed Terror Island (known to its friends as GunForce) can match up to Contra III, or even Super C, for that matter. (Of course, I don't really know, because I've never played either of those games).
Nevertheless, our plucky GunForce-ers have several tricks up the sleeves of their fancy battle armor:
First off, your protagonists are wearing Battle Armor!
There's none of that muscle shirt, headband and cargo pants commando machismo going on here. Our nameless heroes know that a BATTLE FIRE ENGULFED TERROR ISLAND is a pretty hostile place to be, and they've dressed accordingly!
Of course, there's still that "one shot kills you" rule in effect, so it would seem that the GunForce accounting department bought all your battle armor from the same place that supplies Imperial Storm Trooper uniforms...
Well, your armor may be useless, but it's adorable!
Level One ends with a battle with this cement-and-laser-gun monstrosity, which is evidently the enemy's "Front Base:"
But where should you go next? Well, maybe I should let GunForce Commando #1 explain it to you himself:
Yes, his battle armor may be constructed from styrofoam and reinforced with tinfoil, but just look at him -- he's all smiles! And check out the stylish pair of goggles he's sporting, too; they totally make up for the fact that his earmuffs are made out of air conditioner vents!
And speaking of useless but adorable --
Yes, you have your standard series of different gun power-ups (Automatic, Bazooka, Flamethrower, Laserblasts, each replacing the other if you pick it up) -- but this game's greatest gimmick is it's selection of confiscatable artillery and vehicles!
The first level alone lets you sit down behind a tripod-mounted heavy machinegun, or hop into the (controls? cockpit? bucket seat?) of a giant artillery piece:
These static pieces of hardware give you the opportunity to blaze away with a withering hail of death in one of the 8 cardinal directions which video game bullets can travel, which is great fun...
...even if they give you no cover whatsoever: an enemy shot which hits your body kills you dead. But still, they're a mild diversion from the drudgery that is your normal flighty-jumpin', one-shot-dyin', commando-raidin' life.
Alright then -- bring on the Vehicles!
But those stationary armaments are nothing compared to the OTHER two pick-ups/hop-ons that the very first level of the game throws your way:
prepare to leap on top of a jeep, or into the cockpit of a helicopter, and drive these vehicles forwards by...uh...kind of walking on top of/inside them!
But it gets better: if you carefully jump in juuust the right spot*, you can grab on to the vehicle's guns, and lay down an even MORE withering-er stream of suppressing fire!
Again, this AWESOMENESS comes with a disclaimer: first off, while the vehicle itself can soak up a lot of damage, the levels force you to abandon them before too long. And even more damning, if an enemy bullet strikes your roof-ridin' commando, he dies just like if he was on foot.
*: Yeah, did I mention that the game's controls kind of suck? the X and Y buttons both "jump", and the B and A buttons "shoot." Not only is this basically backwards, but it can't be re-configured, AND the L and R shoulder-buttons both make you jump as well! Given how central vehicles are, you'd think they'd have one button for "jump around" and another button for "mount a vehicle", or at least a separate "grab the gun on the vehicle" button. This would save you a lot of jumping on and off of vehicles, hoping to lock your commando in place behind the thing's cannon!
Also, you can only fire the vehicles' guns in the standard 8 directions. Normally this wouldn't deserve an extra mention, but it means that you can't actually shoot enemies that approach the front of your jeep: you have to run them all over, because your gun either shoots over their head or into the ground. Oops!
...but that "8 cardinal directions" thing brings up an interesting bit of fair play:
We're all used to games where YOU are limited to firing at 90 and 45-degree angles only...but in GunForce, virtually all the ENEMIES have that same limitation, too!
See those two yellow-armored troops up there? In most games that guy on the left would just fire down at a 34-degree angle off of due-South and put a bullet through my commando-hat. However, in GunForce, if they want to shoot down at me, they can only shoot to the Southeast, South, or Southwest.
Another surprising bit of fair play is that...
bumping into a briskly-marching enemy soldier doesn't result in your instant death!
I don't know if it's the styrofoam battle gear, that you're wearing sleeves, or your sheer GunForce-iness, but enemies in GunForce actually have to shoot you with bullets (or hit you with a vehicle) to kill you. Just walking past you is no longer enough to send your carcass spinning backwards through the air!
I can't tell you how refreshing this is. Unfortunately it DOES make the standard enemy foot soldier even more pointless: these guys march by in groups of four or five, and usually keep marching until they leave the other side of the screen.
On rare occasions, one of them pauses for a while, looks around, checks the cross-breeze, then fires the single bullet he was issued as "Squadron Leader"...then he immediately flees off the other edge of the screen.
That's not to say that the game is ridiculously easy, it's just that most of the time you only have to worry about the yellow "shootin'-at-you" soldiers we discussed above, or the super-futuristic "ray guns and space suits" elite troops, who are also entrusted with ammunition:
...it's worth noting that THEIR power armor allows them to withstand three or four shots. How does the GunForce team hope to win, again?
Well, you've got a few other advantages:
You can re-grabbing your previous life's guns, Russian Army Style!
One thing you've got going for you is that you can pick up your powered-up gun after you die.
While the non-vehicle-attached guns have limited ammo (though that limit is in the hundreds), but when you die, you drop the gun power-up so it (and its remaining ammo) can be grabbed again by your next life.
You can also bring along your Tag Team Partner!
Hey, Mr. Blue-Wristbands-and-Legwarmers GunForce commando? Meet Mr. BURNT UMBER Wristbands-and-Legwarmers commando!
The simultaneous palette-swapped running-and-gunning battle bros dates back to the original Contra, but on BATTLE FIRE ENGULFED TERROR ISLAND it has an extra-fun twist:
You know those great between-level monologs I talked about earlier? Well, prepare to see them...
IN STEREO!
Or, even better...
While GunForce is a little sparse on the game options (you can PRESS START or, if you press "Select", you get to the super-duper-secret-fudgy-delicious "Difficulty Select" submenu,
But there's another "secret" feature: if you press start only on the SECOND controller, you can instead play the game as CAPTAIN ORANGE!
Needless to say, this makes about as much difference as the choice between Bad Dude Blade or Bad Dude Striker, but it's a nice touch!
And finally...when all else fails...VEHICLES, VEHICLES, VEHICLES!
The next few levels give you a machine-gun-mounted motorcycle and a completely useless/gratuitous boat ride:
But you also end up hitching a ride on a crane and a ski-lift kind of thing:
...and surely, none of those tiny conveyances would need a gun turret affixed to them, would they?
That'd be just silly!
Uh, wait a minute. That platform can only ever travel about ten feet back and forth. Why in the world would you bolt a giant laser cannon on that?
Ah-hahaha! I guess THAT'S why!
Well, let's start wrapping this up
I don't think Contra III or even the original Contra has much to fear from GunForce: I've gotten mid-way through Level 4 before all my lives and continues ran out, and you don't end up seeing anything spectacular:
Most of the levels contain the same 3 basic troop types, sometimes mixing in semi-useless Jetpack Dudes and Yellow Troops Shooting Out of Windows. All the bosses tend to be stationary bases/walls, with little flash or imagination to them. And despite some of the neat elements of fair play and vehicle-hijacking, your basic 4 weapons are pretty barebones and unbalanced (the "Baz"-ooka is pretty much the best).
Despite that, I like it quite a bit...but then, my well-documented bad taste in video games means that I'll probably enjoy a rinky-dink game like GunForce -- as long as it's obscure (so I can say something new about it), goofy (so it gives off a "lovable loser" vibe), and has one or two clever ideas (like the aspects of fair play and the pointless but amusing vehicle-mounted cannons).
Plus, those between-level speeches? Priceless!
...and check out the gonzo off-the-wall last level in next week's article!
— carlmarksguy, 2013-01-18
1
Well, I hope he remembered to flush too! Also, from the title screen you'd think that BATTLE FIRE ENGULFED TERROR ISLAND is a backronym for BFETI...which is still *not* the name of the game.
2
When I read this comment, I had ABBA's "The Name of the Game" stuck in my head :O And since writing this article I played the last half of the 5th and final level of GunForce...and holy crap, it goes completely nuts. The upside? I have more fodder for next week's article!
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