SEGA could probably release a new on-rails arcade shooter every other week on Wii and I’d be quite happy about it. Sadly, they don’t, but what they have released so far has been of good quality, from some of their most famous outings in The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, to less well-known games such as Ghost Squad, even creating, with the help of Headstrong, the all-new and utterly fantastic The House of the Dead: Overkill. It’s been a grueling wait to see what of the genre they would bring to the system next, and the end result is rather unexpected: it’s a twin pack of obscure shooters Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns, bundled together as Gunblade NY & LA Machineguns Arcade Hit Pack.
Both games were developed by AM3 back in the 1990s and share a similar hook that separates the two from many of SEGA’s other arcade shooters: players are transported around on vehicles - a helicopter in Gunblade NY, flying bikes in LA Machineguns - and use giant machine guns with an infinite number of bullets to fling into anything that moves. They also take a different approach to combat, with the game locking on to enemies and tracking them until you have dispatched them. The storyline of agile androids invading numerous American locations to cause mayhem and despair carries across both games, LA Machineguns being a sequel to Gunblade NY in all but name, and it’s up to you to pit machine against machine and kick some iron ass.
1995’s Gunblade NY does not come out of this package in the best light. Developed for the Model 2 arcade board, it looks like it’s fallen right out of a SEGA Saturn and landed on a Wii disc. The blocky visuals have a strange charm to them, however, and at least they ensure that the game never dips in speed - something which would have been utterly disastrous, considering that the first time you play through the game will likely result in boredom anyhow. On the standard difficulty setting, it is easy to tear through both Gunblade’s scenarios - ‘Easy’ and ‘Hard’, with four areas in each - in less than ten minutes a-piece, simply holding down the B button / trigger to unleash a never-ending bullet-hell on all those that cross you. Even the boss battles at the end of each area prove to be no threat whatsoever. There’s simply no challenge to it if your intention is only to complete the game once and move on.
Persevere and replay, though, as you should with any arcade shooter, and things do improve. Further playthroughs unlock new weaponry and seem to feature increased difficulty, with the foes that you gunned down mindlessly previously now darting and dodging about more, daring you to make them dance by spraying metal at their feet. Ramp up the difficulty through the options menu and you are left with a game that, though still a rather shallow and short experience, at least puts up somewhat of a fight against you, hurling missiles that you must shoot down every other second else you wish for a quick death. Infinite continues ensure that you will be able to play right through to the end with few issues if you desire, though.
The main reason to play Gunblade NY is not to merely complete it, though. Its obscenely short length lends well to high-score building, mainly accomplished by getting through the stages even faster and trying to maintain a high accuracy level, thus actually going against the idea of using your infinite machine gun to plough the streets left, right and centre. A Score Attack Remix mode is also available, dropping players in each of your chosen scenario’s area for one minute to accumulate the most points.
LA Machineguns is where most of the meat of this title is, though, and it is this that saves the package from mediocrity - it is unlikely that you would be satisfied if you were to buy a disc containing Gunblade NY alone, as it just isn’t full-featured enough to be worth it. Of course, you still probably couldn’t get away with putting LA Machineguns out on its own, but it at least makes a more convincing case for the prospect. The 1997 title is instantly better from the outset, not least in the visuals department. The style is similar, but the added power of the Model 3 Step 2 chip that it was originally coded for means that LA Machineguns stands up far better these days than Gunblade NY. It’s not exactly the Sistine Chapel, though, and it's not too visible in screenshots - things look a bit nicer in motion.
It takes the ideas of its predecessor and builds upon them, resulting in a far more satisfying experience. Still the android ninjas come, but here they are a more calculating opponent, flipping about acrobatically around your bullets from the very beginning. There is only one scenario this time around, but it’s in much improved form, with four levels that can be played in any order of your choosing and a final level to finish things off once you have dealt with the other four missions. As in Gunblade, each area is capped with a boss encounter that seamlessly joins to the end of the level, all story functions handled in real time.
Accuracy is important to gain a high score, even moreso in LA Machineguns than in Gunblade NY. Firstly, there is a combo system incorporated that multiplies your score as long as you keep it going, extended each time you shoot a foe, explosive barrels, or other items and vehicles scattered throughout the levels. Secondly, there are now hostages intermingled with the titanium terrorists. If you continually fire there is no doubt that you will make a victim of one of the innocents, as it can be tough to avoid them even when being careful in the heat of battle, and each that is killed will take away 5,000 points - a hefty amount, given that enemy kills will generally net you a tenth of that sum. Not only that, but the enemy AI actually gets more vicious with each civilian slaughter, giving you more incentive to keep your gunplay in check. Unlike many arcade shooters that have you thinking about when to shoot and reload so that you do not run out of bullets at a critical time, Gunblade NY and particularly LA Machineguns force you to think about when not to shoot, not when to shoot.
Thankfully, given the score-based nature of the games, online leaderboards are included, so if your Wii is connected to the Internet at the time of playing your scores will automatically be uploaded at the end of each game. Scores when partaking in co-operative mode - another player can hop in at any time, except during Gunblade NY’s single player-only Score Attack - are also tracked, but only locally. The other main Wii feature used is the Wii Remote speaker, acting as a radio as your team shout out some of the cheesiest voice acting known to mankind. It’s all good fun, but I’m still a little disturbed by LA Machineguns’ instruction to “slam ‘em
You’ll also be happy to note that you can use the Wii Zapper, with the Nunchuk’s C button taking place of the A button for confirming things in this configuration. The game works perfectly well with Remote alone, but for shooters like these you just can’t beat slipping the controller into something a little more deadly. SEGA’s House of the Dead AMS pistol works a treat, though I don’t suppose it’s exactly the type of weapon that was envisioned for playing this.
Something that is both a positive and negative about Gunblade NY & LA Machineguns Arcade Hit Pack, depending on who you are, is that they appear to be arcade perfect ports, the lack of giant peripheral machine guns and vibrating platforms not withstanding. The thing is, the term ‘arcade perfect’ used to be a boon, but these days when we’re looking at games as old as this, the consoles are more able than the specification than they were originally created for. I’m in two minds about whether more effort should have been put in to improve on the games or if it’s better that they stayed as they are for nostalgia’s sakes. There are at least two issues with the package that are openly admitted in the game’s instruction manual. Apparently, though I never experienced this, occasionally the camera will halt for a few seconds after all enemies are dispensed with, before re-starting its movement. Also, because the games were originally designed for a 4:3 display, the range in which you can shoot on a widescreen TV is limited; images are displayed in full screen, but the gameplay only takes place in the area that a 4:3 display would cover, meaning that anything on the very left and right sides of the screen cannot be shot at, nor can anything hit you from those areas. It’s easy to get used to, but the question is, should those things have been fixed, or is this a mere lack of effort disguised as pandering to nostalgia? You decide.
Gunblade is initially boring, but opens up a little with repeat plays. LA Machineguns is a far better game, deeper and more replayable due to the combo system.
Both games are Saturn-era in quality; LA Machineguns looks significantly better than Gunblade NY, but that’s not saying too much. On the plus side, there is some charm in the blocky looks and it ensures the framerate stays speedy.
The music screams cheesy 90s, and there’s plenty of hilarious voice acting to enjoy. It could be worse.
Two full, albeit short, arcade games, which outside of this collection would cost you hundreds of pounds, on one disc for budget price, at least one of which is very replayable.
It is LA Machineguns that makes Gunblade NY & LA Machineguns Arcade Hit Pack worthy of a look. The game has far more depth than Gunblade NY and is the one that you keep coming back to, though the two complement each other well as a spiritual franchise. The fact that the games remain true to the arcade originals and are unaltered outside of the addition of online leaderboards and Wii Remote speaker usage is something that is going to either put people off, or have their hands diving for their wallets, though.
Definitely has SEGA written all over it, stained, bruised and tattoed. Love the old school arcade games from SEGA, don't really remember much of either to be honest, though saw more of Gunblade than LA.
Would rather stick to it in the arcade than a retail release, but can see the appeal for arcade nuts.
Good review Mike!