Friday, November 4, 2022

Elevator Action (1983)

Name:Elevator Action
Time:50 minutes
Won:Not possible

I'm surprised I haven't talked about Taito before, as I am wont to think whenever a big company like this shows up. Doesn't help that sometimes I get as far as beginning writing about some game, only to realize I don't care for it or its incredibly boring. Taito was the company responsible for Space Invaders, one of the big classic space shooters that these days has been so talked to death about that I don't have anything worthwhile to say. What you probably don't know is that apparently Taito started as a Russian's venture of importing goods into Japan, headquartered in Shanghai. Its interesting how many Japanese game companies didn't start out as either Japanese or game companies, usually being importers.

Elevator Action was Taito's big hit of 1983, and according to reviews, its easy to see why as the game is surprisingly fair for an arcade title of the time. You play as a spy traveling through a large tower searching for documents while dodging and shooting guards. The big gimmick is that the game revolves around the use of elevators. A note because of minor issues with MAME, I'll be playing the NES version instead. It seems close enough.

Each game starts with a cutscene the player arriving at the top of a building, and then descending inside. The ominous seeming intro quickly gives way to a jaunty little tune characteristic of the era, yet feeling completely wrong. Less NES and more Intellivision in my mind. Once you gain control, you have to gradually move down the building, looking for red doors. You enter these by standing on a mark and then wait. At the bottom is your getaway car.

Obviously, this isn't as simple as just walking down. There are various bad guys, all in black coats like a cartoon villain, shooting at you. In your defense you have two primary methods of dealing with them. You have a gun, which can have three bullets on-screen at a time. Everyone dies in one hit, but it feels very fair about it, probably because unlike in other games, touching an enemy doesn't result in your death, and if you're jumping, results in theirs. Shooting them is generally the right choice and feels pretty satisfying.
That's something that could be used to describe the control scheme in general. Despite the oddness of the game, somewhere been grim realism and animeland, it kind of works. If you jump to a lower floor, you die, but you also somehow have a pretty good leap. You can crouch, which allows you to dodge some bullets, but your enemies can crouch too. Tripped me up the first couple of times.
Enemies pop out of every door except the ones containing documents, and only three seem to appear at a time. Because of a weird quirk, enemies can sometimes pop out of a door you've just left, since taking the documents out of a red door turns it blue. Enemies can also start shooting the second they leave a door...which is fun.
Crushing someone against a ceiling, how wacky and anime!

The elevators themselves are interesting. You can walk across them and go up and down, of course. As a consequence, you can't crouch while using it. You can also walk across the top, and but you can't control it or walk out the other side thanks to the cable. Your foes also use the elevator. Some elevators come in weird pairs, so you can't go up and down all the way in one of them. Finally, and the best part, you can use the elevator as a weapon in of itself. Just push it down their head and crush them. Or in later levels, push them against the ceiling.

You can also shoot lights down, which briefly causes a the building to become dark and take out an enemy...if you're lucky. There's also an alarm which causes enemies to pop out faster, but in practice I didn't notice too much of a change.

Now, there are some issues with the game's basic ideas. You are entirely at the mercy of the game whenever you enter a room to obtain documents, should a bullet cross your path while inside it, tough. The game also sort of stops while your character does this. You also have to wait for elevators a lot of the time. Just like in real life, this isn't fun.
Still, all is mostly well for the game's first level. It works. You go across many different sections and areas before finally escaping. It feels right. Finally, an arcade game that works. Then level 2 happens and my optimism is gone. The only real change is now enemies move faster and tend to crouch before shooting, which is something you generally can't dodge. Jumping works if you time it right, but its very tricky. Its even the same layout as the first level, except a few doors and elevators change a bit.
They also bunch up a lot more outside the rooms you enter, which generally puts this into the category of impossible for me. I'm sure there's a right way to deal with it, but alas, it is beyond me. I actually can get as far as the third level, but that's it.

Despite the multitude of factors that bring it down, I think that this is a solid title for the time. It has a nice intensity to it that works in spite of it being your usual arcade coin-muncher. Its just that lacking any real variation there's no real point in reaching later levels beyond bragging rights.

A pretty effective feeling gun. 2/10

Despite being your usual fodder, they've got some interesting abilities, and can do most things the player can. 2/10


An interesting tower block, but just one. 2/10

Player Agency:
Jumping feels a bit too heavy for the aesthetic, but otherwise is solid. 4/10

I'm impressed by both the elevators and the falling lights. 2/10

For a moment, it felt like a proper spy game. Then it came off like any other NES title. It does have its moments in the intensity department though. 2/10

It looks okay. I had no issues determining what was going on. 2/10

The barest of bare. 0/10

Standard NES sound effects along with an out of place background tune. 2/10

That's 18, the highest for the year so far. That's...a surprisingly good rating. I usually don't get this kind of luck. Either the bottom is about to fall out or things are getting tolerable on this blog. I'm still on the arcades for 1983, which has had a weird rating curve.

This brings us down to 31 games left in 1983. No, that's not a typo. I decided to do some spring cleaning and actually apply my "no games under 10 points" rule more harshly. So we're down to half of what I said 1983 would be already. As such most of the remaining games are supposedly tolerable, and most should be playable in the sense I can get them running. I'm also done with the arcades, meaning now I'm going to focus on console titles.

1 comment:

  1. The Wargaming ScribeNovember 11, 2022 at 5:25 PM

    Hey, I remember seeing this game on arcade box when I was not even a teenager. I could never play, nor did I remember the name so good review.

    (It was also me who commented below Ecstatica)