PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER: Data East
RELEASE DATE: 03/29/1991 (JP), 06/1991 (US)
ALSO ON: Arcade, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST
If Midnight Resistance was a film, it would be one of those action B-movies that you catch on TBS at two in the morning. You know the ones. The heroes are grizzled war veterans. The bad guys are usually high-ranking cartel members or drug runners. The acting is subpar. The action sequences recall other better movies. There’s nothing in it that hasn’t been done before. Even the name “Midnight Resistance” sounds like something you’d see in a cheap Walmart DVD bin. And yet, despite its derivative nature, you can’t help but enjoy the low-budget antics. The movie feels like its one step away from collapsing in on itself. This is, of course, the appeal.
Midnight Resistance is not a film. It’s a game that looks, sounds, and plays a lot like Contra. Big muscled dude with bandanna on his head? Check. Non-stop shooting with a variety of different weapons? Oh my, yes. Eight-way directional firing? You better believe it. The game even strives for ridiculous set pieces, although they don’t always hit the mark. They try, though. In fact, Midnight Resistance as a whole tries really hard. Perhaps that’s why I find it so endearing.
You play Johnny Ford, a man who hates drugs and all associated with them. He spent 15 years in the Narcotics Control Agency, destroying cartels with his bare hands. His father, Dr. Malcolm Ford, is about to make a breakthrough product that would cure humans of their addictions to drugs. They’re a dynamic drug-busting team. One day, Johnny returns home to find his entire family – including his father – has been kidnapped by the world’s most notorious cartel leader, the Crimson King (you better believe there’s a resemblance to King Crimson). In order to save his family and destroy every drug once and for all, Johnny heads straight for the Crimson King’s lair.
You start your journey with a basic automatic machine gun. As the first level begins, red and blue ninjas jump towards your constantly spraying gun with mindless, reckless intent. The red ninjas, once obliterated, drop keys for you to pick up. Once each level is complete, you walk into a chamber filled with different kinds of primary and secondary (or “backpack”) weapons. These weapons can only be unlocked with the red ninja keys.
In the chamber, a fully automatic machine gun, a flamethrower, a three-way automatic machine gun, and an automatic shotgun are your portion. You can only pick one per level, but that’s ok. In my opinion, there’s only one weapon worth using: the three-way gun. Its attack radius encompasses the majority of the screen, and you feel like a complete badass while wielding it. Secondary weapons include nitro, shower, and homing missiles which rain incredible death on any foes in the area. There are also extra bullets, energy shields, and the occasional 1Up.
Unlike Contra, Midnight Resistance isn’t a difficult game. The levels are short and the enemies – mostly red and blue ninjas, along with some flying fellows – are few. The sub-bosses and bosses are numerous, but their attack patterns, once discerned, are easy to avoid. Presuming you have enough firepower, you can destroy both lesser enemies and the bosses with surprising ease.
Like Contra, however, Midnight Resistance is a rollicking thrill ride that never lets up. Large tanks threaten to roll you over unless you destroy them first. Screen-filling helicopters chase you from one side of the stage to another, while a man filled with electricity sprays non-stop shock waves at you. Spinning metal wheels multiply on the screen until you can barely move or shoot them. The last level where you fight the Crimson King is masterful insanity. As I mentioned earlier, not all of the game’s set pieces work; the moving platforms in the trees, for example, feels clunky and uninspired. These moments bombard you so relentlessly, however, that it’s hard not to be impressed.
Midnight Resistance doesn’t contain the polish, charm, or allure of the Contra series. It’s rough and gritty, and sometimes it feels like the game isn’t sure what it wants to do. That’s ok. By trying to replicate and – dare I write – one-up Contra, Data East crafted its own ramshackle creation. Most of us won’t consciously select Midnight Resistance over Contra: Hard Corps, but if you happen to play the former instead of the latter, you won’t regret it.