We really should have gotten this earlier. Technically, we should have gotten this while the Dreamcast was still alive and kicking, but failing that, we should have at least gotten this a short time after Ghost Squad. Since that game, the public perception of the genre has changed.
The lightgun/on-rails shooter genre has been in a strange place lately. It's utterly exploded on the Wii, becoming the go-to genre for publishers who think it's the fast track to making their games "casual-friendly." This especially happens with licensed games and AAA titles that show up on the more powerful systems; developers will make a super-shiny open-movement game for the PS3 and 360 (and sometimes even the PSP!), make a 2-D platformer for the DS, and an on-rails for the Wii.
On the DS, this strategy may actually pay off. It's not hard to make a 2-D game faithful to its source material. On the Wii, however, this usually has the opposite result — backlash and lower sales are common. The problem is betraying the identity of a game's original concept. Just because a game is on the Wii doesn't mean that it has to be compromised for an imaginary audience. The system's unique properties and controls should be seen as a boon, not a hindrance. It's been repeatedly proven that shoehorning a series that is open-ended, methodical, player-empowering, and/or suspenseful into an adrenaline-filled genre that takes away most forms of player control will only get complaints and end up being a money sink. A genre change should only take place if it plays to the strengths of the property in question.
What could be better received are fewer on-rails shooter conversions, and more on-rails shooters built from the ground up, aimed at all ages (since M-rated games of this type don't do too well). Games that do this tend to be intense and demanding if you're a perfectionist who wants to stay alive without continuing like crazy, achieve unlock bonuses, and compete for the highest scores. They can also be player-empowering for people who just want a quick fix. Such games don't patronize and coddle their players, but they're inviting just the same. Despite the Wii being perfect for this sort of thing, Namco refuses to join the party and clean up with Time Crisis, so once again, Sega steps in.
GunbladeNY and L.A. Machineguns were two on-rails shooters a technological generation apart. Gunblade was released on Saturn-era hardware in 1996, while Machineguns was released for the Dreamcast-based Naomi hardware three years later. In both games, you played as a pilot with superior aerial maneuverability, raining death from above with your guns against an army of cyborg terrorists. The speed of the camera as players flew about the stages made for some great set pieces.
Both of these machines were most famous for sporting gigantic mounted automatic mock machine guns, which players continuously fired at the screen. As players stood and fired, the entire machine vibrated like crazy, pulling players into the action. Suffice it to say that back in the day, if one went to an amusement park and one of these machines were in the arcade, it would easily be a viable alternative to the long lines of rollercoasters. Sadly, the Wii Remote isn't quite up to the task of the replicating the massive amount of rumble that the arcade versions generated, but given the circumstances, it does a respectable job.
Keeping with the commonalities of the two games: Their music is absolutely fantastic, having been done by the same composer as the Virtual On titles. Odds are that if you played this in the arcade, you didn't get to hear this music since arcades were really noisy places. This is your chance to relish it. You probably also didn't get to hear the campy voices in the game for the same reason. Here, you can map them to the Wii Remote's speaker, which is an excellent immersive touch. The Arcade Hits Pack also has online high score leaderboards for both games, selectable difficulty levels, and console-exclusive weapons that unlock the more you play the game. Said unlockables are a far, far cry from Ghost Squad's plethora of mods, but they help keep the game fresh.
Finally, as a word of advice: Ditch whatever pistol-shaped gun shells that you used to play other Wii games of this type because they "looked cooler." The Arcade Hits Pack is best suited for the Wii Zapper or any oversized shell that requires two hands to hold. Not only is it the sweetest way to play these two games, but controlling your aim with both hands will also help in mastering the game. One wrist just isn't enough to deal with all of the fast-paced aiming that this duo of games commands of players. Speaking of aiming, both games are perfect for the Wii in this respect since their arcade counterparts always had an on-screen crosshairs anyway.
GunbladeNY is the graphically inferior of the two games, and due to the lower-spec hardware, it also keeps the simultaneous enemy count low; you'll never have more than four enemies fighting you at a time. However, quantity is made up for in this case by quality; these cyborg terrorists are also apparently ninja, scampering, flipping, flying and swerving all over the place to avoid your shots. The only way to take down any of these folks is with concentrated combination shots. The trouble is that any given enemy has a friend or two nearby firing lots of missiles in retaliation. Suddenly, fighting four enemies at once is a big deal, especially if you're going for a perfect run.
Stage runs in Gunblade are also randomized, determined both by the order in which the enemies you encounter are killed, and a camera programmed to behave in a slightly random manner. The game can be given even further variety by way of its Score Attack Remix mode, which shuffles the stages in a "no-continues-allowed" survival mode fashion. There's more to this game than meets the eye if you're willing to explore its options and attempt to become truly skilled at it. No two playthroughs are the same.
L.A. Machineguns contains graphics and elements that will probably go over more easily with modern gamers. The action and camera swerves are faster, and there are also fewer stages, but they last longer. Bosses also have multiple phases to them. While the enemies are easier to hit and come in easier patterns, they take more hits to kill (headshots will do massive damage, but good luck consistently landing them in a game like this), and the game throws absolute swarms of them at you. If you don't want to get hit a lot while running through this game, bring a friend.
Gunblade and Machineguns are easy to pick up while being tough to master by design, and they bring two different, welcome and fun styles to their genre. They don't make concessions, and they don't let up. Heck, they were made expressly for people who had already mastered most games of this type in the first place. The only real drawback to the Arcade Hits Pack (unless you're really some kind of graphics stickler) is that it's lacking content on the surface. Barring the perfectionists mentioned at the beginning of this review, either of these games can be beaten in 20 minutes. As mentioned before, Ghost Squad provides about 20 times more incentive to replay the same game. Most of the dynamism takes place in terms of the enemy placement, and there are a couple of alternate weapons, but if you want to play the game in new and different ways, you'll have to make up the rules yourself.
Including a third game (Let's Go Jungle!, perhaps?) would have instantly turned this pack's slightly high initial $30 price point into an utter steal. As it stands, the price is worth it for what you get, if just barely — and if you somehow can get it for lower, definitely snag it. These games have it where it counts, especially if you're an on-rails shooter enthusiast, and this is the first time they've ever had a home release. They're also great entries into a genre that has been both overlooked and saturated with the wrong type of material as of late.
Besides, the President needs saving. You don't want to let down the President, do you?
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