GENRE: Action platformer
RELEASE DATE: 07/14/90 – (JP), 10/90 – (US), 12/90 – (EU)
The over-the-top action of Revenge of Shinobi has yet to be topped on the Mega Drive thus far, but ESWAT makes a valiant attempt. The latter lacks Shinobi‘s killer Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack, and at no point do you fight any 80s action stars or super heroes, but both games succeed at combining methodical action with considerable challenge.
As in the decrepit Master System version, you play as rookie cop, Duke Oda, and your mission is to protect Liberty City from the evil organization known as E.Y.E.. In order to take on an entire organization by yourself, your buddies at the police force give you an ICE Combat suit that increases your health, holds several powerful weapons, and allows you to fly for a limited time. The suit does make you look like a dork, but it’s a small price to pay for the force you wield.
Duke’s initial beat is the Liberty City streets and the corrupt prison. In these areas, he cleans up crime with only a pathetic pistol and his frail human physique. Once he’s proven himself worthy and shed his rookie status, the ICE Combat suit is bequeathed to him and the real challenge begins.
The ICE suit is worthy of any reckless action film. In addition to your standard peashooter, you can also acquire a Super shooter that unleashes three bullets at once, a Plasma Cannon with a charge that can level several enemies at once, Rockets that, when launched, stay low and explode on impact, and a Flamethrower attack that incinerates all enemies on screen (except for bosses). You can switch between any of the weapons with the ‘A’ button, but if you die, they disappear and you’ll have to find them again. Your jet pack allows you to fly high or hover, depending on the circumstance, but the charge only lasts a few seconds. Soar with caution.
While the majority of the levels, like the nuclear plant and the sewer have standard left-to-right progression, two levels are masterfully crafted and worth highlighting. Level 4 takes place in a laboratory that’s slowly filling with purple ooze. There’s not a moment in this level where you feel safe. Experiments gone wrong burst forth from behind large glass containers and block your path, while you try to outrun the life-draining substance through a series of claustrophobic tunnels.
The area known as Dark Base forces you to fly through narrow corridors and above life-draining floors. Glowing red floors fill your jet pack charge, but suck your life away, while the less common green floors charge your jet pack without any life sacrifice. There’s a moving escalator where you have to land on the right steps in order to open the next path, and a section where you’re forced to alternate between hovering around barriers and landing on a moving platform, while avoiding the red floors and the flying enemies around you. As you’re flying and trying not to die, a dark robotic figure haunts your every step. Brutal.
Right from the first stage, the bosses are epic. Duke starts off fighting a helicopter, then a set of twin robots before he even puts on his ICE suit. Next up are three screen-filling mechano-monsters – including a Mad Scientist-controlled juggernaut and a huge robotic spider. There’s also a sewer centipede constructed entirely of eyes and jagged edges, and finally, the leader of the E.Y.E. Corporation. Are you man-machine enough to take them all out?!
ESWAT is difficult, but in a way that builds your skills. The key to progression is slow, steady movement. Don’t feel the need to rush into battle. Let the enemies show themselves first, then attack as fast as you can. Why do this? Because running full bore without considering what’s next will ensure you die quickly. Even if you explore an area with caution, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat most of the levels on your first try. That’s ok. The more you memorize where enemies appear in a level, the easier of a time you’ll have.
If ESWAT‘s difficulty feels suffocating to you, all is not lost. Items that replenish your Life are common. With every level you complete, you gain an extra bar on your Life meter. There are three generous continues, you can turn up your lives to 5 in the Options Menu, and save for the Dark Base and the E.Y.E. Complex, the levels are pretty short. There’s always hope, even for the less skilled player.
ESWAT is technically based off of the arcade game of the same name, but the Genesis version is so different, it almost qualifies as a new title. Most of the levels and bosses are new and weren’t featured in the arcade whatsoever. Your weapons have unlimited ammunition. In the arcade, your suit breaks apart when you get hit, but in the Genesis version, you have a life bar. And, strangely, the 16-bit graphics are cleaner and crisper than the arcade’s. While I prefer the Genesis version, both the latter and the arcade are tailored perfectly for their respective demographics.
ESWAT isn’t a consistently great game, but its well-paced action and flashes of brilliance elevate it above most B-tier platformers. The two-level progression from puny human to Robot Cop makes you feel like you earned the suit by level three. The Lab and Dark Base areas are some of the most intense, creative levels I’ve encountered in a long time. And the jet pack – limited though it may be – gives you a freedom not found in many platformers. Yes, ESWAT controls like Joe Musashi in a mech suit, but when the results are this enjoyable, it doesn’t matter that the game is essentially lesser Shinobi. One of Sega’s unsung action titles.