Monday, August 23, 2021

Death Duel

There are 2 title screens, but I chose the first
Name:Death Duel
Developer:Punk Development
Genre:FPS (?)
Time:3 hours

With each new console/handheld title I play that gets slapped with the FPS label, things get stranger and stranger. One title I had on the FPS category wrongly was Crossed Swords, a cross between beat 'em up and rail shooter. There are a bunch of games like that, but only Crossed Swords appealed to me, and we'll get back to that one. But I guess that Death Duel is another title in that weird realm. Its not truly a FPS, not by my definition. But is it anything else? I originally found it fascinating for that reason.

The game opens with a text crawl, as seems to be usual for Genesis games at this point. Its an intriguing story that won't matter beyond the opening text crawl...but hang on a minute. This sounds an awful lot like the plot to Robot Jox. Which involves each nation on Earth settling their disputes with giant mechas. Its one of the few western examples of the genre, or at least in the medium of moving pictures. The big difference is that this cuts right to the chase, and there are 9 fights.

The film was hampered by budget, but from what I've seen, has some charm that overwhelms its lack of mecha on mecha fighting. I'm tempted as to whether or not this constitutes something I should care about. I do like the concept, and the text crawl might as well be about how the lead developer's girlfriend left him and he put her face on every enemy for all it tends to matter in-game. The text crawl goes on to talk about how this "isn't a shooter". (heh) They mean not to shoot blindly, which turns out to be the best piece of advice you can get.
I find these don't really mean anything
After the text crawl and title screens, there's a menu. This allows you to turn music on or off, and the amount of tries (lives) you have, which go up to 5. You're going to need those, but starting off you're better keeping it at 3. After a card explaining who you're about to try killing, it takes you straight into it. Your noble mech fighting to save the federation from total destruction...and then a ring girl pops up, which is amusing for a while. She tells you to do various violent acts against your opponent, including "kicking his asteroids", which seems a pointless act of censorship considering her nipples are poking through her shirt.
Some are less imaginative than others
Its also pointless when you start fighting the dragon, the first enemy. He's hiding behind a wall, but usually comes out of the wall pretty quickly. The game gives you three weapons on this mission, a missile, a machine gun, and a skimmer. The skimmer is basically a larger caliber machine gun. If the dragon stops jumping around and flying for a moment, and you hit him enough, his limbs start blasting off in a mess of gore. This game is very ahead of its time in the general tone the era would take, and its most important here. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is supposed to be shocking. This is before any kind of game rating system.
As demonstrated here, moments before I lose
The dragon is curiously hard at times. He's very agile and his limbs regenerate. If you mess things up, its very easy to lose here. You have a selection of targets, his arms, his legs, and his head, before you have to just spray his body. You could also hit his wings, but this one isn't wise enough to use them after getting severely damaged...most of the time. Its in your interest to kill him as quickly as possible, because there's a time limit. This is partially why I say the game's intro doesn't matter. You lose by one of three ways, the time limit, running out of ammo, or getting too damaged.
Behold, scenic wall
The controls are curious things. The game is basically a first-person version of Operation: Wolf and the ilk, rail shooters that allow you to move to dodge damage. Here, this is a tricky proposition. Its kind of hard to dodge attacks. There's no real way to detect what the enemy is going to do until they've done it, and while they shoot actual projectiles, its no guarantee you can dodge it. This is because the crosshair goes across the screen at a leisurely pace. You could speed it up, but that means you aren't actually moving, just aiming. These problems apply to aiming too, since enemies after a few seconds can do anything, but usually they move around a lot. With a mouse this game would be like, 20x easier.
Not pictured, worms, birds wearing helmets
In-between stages there are these shooting gallery stages, where you just hit random targets. You get a minute for each one, and you fire at targets until you get a set number of points. The problem is, your speed remains the same here, and targets are as random as anything else in this game. A nasty piece of work are the smiley faces that roll across the screen. They subtract points. By the last stage, you have to get 5000 points, and which means you're going to have to hit some of the smaller targets, like flies. If you somehow hit the tiniest enemy, you get enough to win any stage, even the last.
The monkey actually walks around, which is cool
After the opening stage, each enemy card leads to the shop, where you get to buy weapons and repair your mecha. You have three slots, which also change where they fire from and whether or not they'll hit something in the foreground. Sometimes there's a sale, and depending on which weapon its for, take advantage of it. There are no explanations of what each weapon does in-game, but let Morpheus talk you through them:
  • Machine Gun, weapon of last resort, only saving grace is its cheapness.
  • Missile, dumbfire missiles, if they make contact with an enemy they deal some decent damage. After you've gotten used to the first few enemies, load up all three slots and you can blast through an enemy in under 20 seconds.
  • Laser Gun, upgraded machine gun. Hits faster, and slightly harder.
  • Skimmer, a different upgraded machine gun. It doesn't deal that much more damage, but it seems to have a bigger target radius and it trashes walls.
  • Lob Grenade, disables enemies weapons, effectively disabling some enemies.
  • Grenade, explosive, tricky, requires some practice. Its useless until you get good with them. And useless against some enemies in general.
  • Energy Ring, disables some enemies for a short period of time. Very useful, but it seems best used against living enemies, rather than robots.
  • SloMo Cloud, doesn't seem to do much, and I don't think it replaces the Energy Ring for robots.
  • Lob Mine, throw a mine. If he steps on it, he gets hurt. Not hurt enough to justify 10000 of your hard-earned money.
  • Homin' Rocket, doesn't miss, you don't even need to know where to aim, but expensive.

For the most part, you're going to be using the same selection. I found that for the enemies between dragons, getting x2 missiles in each slot was best, so long as you can hit them. For ones you can take out the legs, do so. But generally try to take advantage of deals, they're random, but they'll save you money. You need that money too.

This guy rolls into a spiky ball
For the next few enemies, I generally don't have any problems. Oh, I did the first time, but that was just figuring out the combat. You have to figure out which parts you can destroy and which ones are a waste of your time. As the enemies go by, thanks to a combination of just nerves and the increasingly strange designs, this gets tricky. Early on you can take out all the weapons on an enemy, rendering him a sitting duck. I'm infuriated this never results in a stalemate should I fail, but like I said, the story doesn't matter. A general piece of info is to aim at all four limbs, then the head, then the body. They're nasty about this sometimes too. I think you can avoid hitting some targets, but its good form to destroy as many weapons as you can.
I feel like Prepare to Die would be more appropriate
The first problem enemy is the second dragon, the fifth enemy. Like the first dragon, he runs around a bit, but unlike his now dead friend, he's eager to fly, and he regenerates FAST. Its entirely possible to shoot a limb off only to have that limb come back instantly. And you can't handle him in the usual way, because he dodges pretty well, there's no guarantee a missile will hit him. I want to say he anticipates my moves, but that seems too smart of him. The mine? No, doesn't do enough damage, doesn't destroy a limb or anything. Energy Ring won't hit him even if he's crippled. The answer? I found nothing really satisfactory, but a combination of skimmers and missiles got me through. I swear this damn thing's head regenerates as soon as I shoot it off, EVERY DAMN TIME.
The game over screen is really cool
And from here on out it turns from making money to surviving. Better save as much money as you safely can. I don't know if its nerves or what, but I after a few attempts I started screwing up big time on the later shooting galleries. Which removes one of my lives. Which makes every single challenge another giant trial to deal with. The main stages are still tricky, but doable. There's another really nasty robot, only a problem thanks to the level's amount of walls, which makes fighting him a complete mess to deal with. And for some reason he gets out of his robot near the end, at which point you have to splatter him.
A strange enemy to end all strange enemies
Enemy number 7 is tricky. She's described as another ogre, something which lulls you into a sense of false security at this point. Surprise! A worm that wiggles around like crazy! Have you somehow managed to detect what the AI is going to do so far? Sucks to be you, because this thing is basically unpredictable. I'm not really sure how you beat it legitimately, but I got lucky on my second playthrough and got a discount on the skimmers. Spray the arms, and then spray the head. This is really when the game stops pretending to be fair and starting pulling dirty tricks, because this feels random. Even if I had one missile and instantly took out an arm its still tricky business for the other arm. I liked the design of this one best of all, the rest tend to lean fairly traditionally in design. I'm sure one is ripping off a Transformer or something.
You think I'm joking about Predator Tank?
Then there's the Predator tank, which is a Predator on a tank. I don't remember the actual name. This guy is hard, not necessarily because he's tough, he is, but because you have to do so much damage. The tank and cannon arm are distractions. Nothing you do really affects his weapons or mobility. This is tough if you aren't careful, but not as hard as some of the previous enemies. This leads into the hardest shooting gallery section of the entire game. For some reason I fell victim to this almost as much as the proceeding enemies.
For a final boss this guy is extremely generic
The final boss is pure pain. He has an invisibility cloak, which momentarily stops working whenever you fire. If he's got the cloak and and is moving, that's it man. You're supposed to take out the dude by hitting his arms, then his legs, then his cannons, finally the head. There are a few problems with this, namely, you are expected to strictly adhere to this, which tripped me up a couple of times. And the cannons have tricky spots to hit. In the end I didn't get to use any fancy weapons against this dude. I can't imagine finishing this game without save states. I guarantee you'd have to play for many more hours than I did. Its basically luck that the enemy doesn't run away or fire too many shots at you, because you CANNOT dodge him, at all.
That's one poor job on the lady
Was it all worth it? No, not really. Some woman narrates the ending, humanity is saved, wait for Death Duel II, coming never ever. This is such a frustrating, unsatisfactory game to actually play to completion, which is a shame since so many aspects of it were cool. I think in a way this is a cool precursor to other realistic mecha games like Armored Core. Though other games had already started on that trend, so this is all a bit...questionable

There are 10 weapons, of which 1 are practically useless, 4 are situational and 1 is too expensive. You're mostly going to be using the same weapons for most of the game. 2/10

I really liked them. Thanks to the way the game's designed, the few big enemies each have a personality, and figuring out how to best defeat them is fun, when it isn't rage-inducing. 3/10


Every encounter with an enemy takes place in roughly the same environment, a featureless plane with some obstacles. Though this changes, it doesn't change that every wall is mostly indestructible, and generally a nuisance to deal with. The real challenge remains in the enemies. I also didn't care for the shooting stages, just be more generous with money. 1/10

Player Agency:
I liked the way the guns' starting position changed depending on which one you were using. Otherwise, its very tricky to say good things. You mostly just move around slowly, you can switch to a aiming mode, but this prevents you from dodging attacks, which is the primary problem with later levels. 3/10

None, really.

What little the game had was quickly squandered as I tried to finish it. Its magic lies in quick sessions, not actively trying to beat the game. 1/10

There's good art direction, and clever modifications give more life out of limited resources. Most enemy actions have 3-4 frames, but since they're animating quite a few body parts that can be blown off at any point, that's forgivable. I find the sky they made to be a bit off, but I tend to notice these things. 6/10

Token excuse plot.

The music cues that happen when viewing a character's card are cool, but that's it. I understand the reasoning, its distracting in battle. What's also distracting is the enemy having random sounds that don't lead to anything. Otherwise its fine for Genesis. 2/10

That's 18, or the best non-racing console game by some 8 points. Its not a bad game, just heavily flawed. My opinion seems to be by no means unique, as everyone hits the same beats I do, save for not getting to the end.

Curiously, while this is the last game of Punk Development, from the ashes, would arrive Iguana Entertainment, the people known for Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The future looks bright.

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