Anyone with fond memories of the brutal arcade bullet-storms of yore probably has a distinct fondness for top-down action classics like SNK’s Ikari Warriors or, closer to the topic at hand, Commando and Mercs, both hailing from Capcom in their coin-op heyday. With the online downloadable scene as it is at the moment-ever an increasingly fertile ground for both classics and reboots alike-there’s never been a better time to add another notch on this aged franchise’s belt. Enter: Wolf of the Battlefield, a retro-styled shooter for Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network that both manages to hit and miss the inner sanctum of classic gaming.
Thankfully, where it hits is in the overall department of shooting nondescript bad guys and manning devastating vehicles with friends in tow, each of you forever married to the Fire Button. The game plays a lot like any of the twin-stick shooters that currently flood the download market, but it’s a lot easier to specifically compare it to the XBLA title Assault Heroes. Enemies invade the screen, you mow them down with a variety of weapons ranging from rat-a-tat to rockets, and eventually you fight a boss.
As a throwback to similar titles, and as an installment in the Commando series, this works really well. Its successes are most evident when playing with friends, which is really the only way to get the most out of the game. Even fighting similar bosses throughout the levels doesn’t get old when you’ve got a buddy helping you flank the turrets and flamethrowers of a gigantic tank. With experiences like that under your belt, you probably won’t even consider firing the game up by yourself. It’s just not the same.
Still, the repetition can wear down even the bravest of commandos, as can the lack of diversity in locales. A more appealing visual style might have assuaged this issue, but it’s hard to shake when a lot of the designs are so off-putting. It’s not terribly distracting in the game itself, since the camera stays pretty tight on all of the overhead action, but I’d love to see someone design one of these franchise reboots in a style similar to the originals, sprites and all. I understand the possibilities of that happening are fairly nil in the gotta-tout-the-resolution HD era.
Where it really sticks out is in the between-level cutscenes. Don’t get me wrong; the last thing I want to worry about in a game like this is the story. In this instance, however, it seems as if Backbone were going for scenes that play out like something you’d actually see in the arcade back in the day: lots of silent still panels with text underneath that detail the dilemma of the next stage. This is a great idea, but the execution is pretty poor. The art looks like something from a generic browser-based flash game, and there’s even an instance in which a story panel repeats itself, flashing on the screen back to back with its duplicate as if there’s a reel missing. Developers could capitalize on moments like this with charming and simple touches like intentionally bad digitized voices and corny word balloons, but as it is, it just seems kind of lazy.
The fact that I’m merely nitpicking the aesthetics is a boon for the rest of the content. Get together with some of your dearest run n’ gun maniac friends, dispute loudly over which of the three characters you’ll each be playing, and go to town on an endless horde of enemy soldiers. The important thing to take away from the experience is that whenever there was a lull in the action (which is pretty rare), me and my teammate would make a point to remark on how much fun we were having. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters, right?
Oh yeah, that and the access purchasers of the game on Xbox Live Arcade have been granted to the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD beta!
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
System: Xbox 360 / PS3