Oh, licensed games, how you confuse us. We love the movies and comics that you represent so thoroughly that we temporarily forget the tragic history of poor games shoved out the door to make a quick buck.
But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we get lucky, a golden ticket of a game that combines a great license with fun gameplay. Ducktales for the NES and the Arkham series of Batman games have taught us that developers can give us great licensed games that combine quality original game engines with the atmosphere of the source material, but there’s another strain of licensed game that merits our attention: licensed games that are great versions of other games.
Rambo: First Blood Part II for the Sega Master System falls into this category, as it’s a re-skinned version of Ashura/Secret Commando. Since it’s a re-marketed version of a good game, Rambo: FBPII is, itself, a good game making okay use of a good license. There’s a similar game that does one better, and it’s Universal Soldier for the Sega Genesis.
Ten seconds with this game will tell any experienced gamer what the engine is from, and it’s an amazing thing: this game is a retooled version of Turrican II for the Commodore 64. Like Turrican II, Universal Soldier has the excellent animation and quality shooting and platforming controls that made gamers riot when the Turrican II demo was released and there weren’t enough copies to go around (Cologne, circa 1991).
Never played a Turrican game? Imagine the love-child of Contra and Metroid. Sound good? It is, and Universal Soldier has the platforming and shooting joy that it denotes. Turrican lets you jump and shoot like any good Contra-esque title, and there’s a lot more platforming and some hidden secrets ala Metroid. Also like Metroid, you can press down and
attack and you roll like a spiky ball, whacking enemies and spinning through hard to reach places. Something Universal Soldier takes solely from Turrican is the automatic fire mechanism–hold down the fire button, and your character locks down, spraying a rain of bullets in whatever direction you aim with the directional pad. It’s a staple of the Turrican series, and it works just as well here.
So it’s got a good engine, you say, so what? It also has something that most shooters don’t, and that’s a weird sense of humor. See those tiny mechs that look like little baby ED-209’s running at you? Sure, you can shoot them … or you can jump on them, Mario-style, and watch them collapse like a can, skittering back and forth and spraying sweat into the air. Not enough? Okay, what about
discovering hidden blocks that, when shot or bumped, spit out power-ups in a showering arc like, oh golden coins? Yeah, that all happens, and it really gives the game a sense of fun missing from a lot of shooters. The odd bits remind you “Hey, it’s a game. And I’m having fun.”
The music is a so-so bag, giving adequate but not memorable tunes paired with radically mismatched ones (I’m talking about you, level 2–YOU SHOULDN’T BE THAT HAPPY.) The graphics, while the animation and colors are great, are also uneven. Turrican II had some awesome enemy sprites, whereas the Universal Soldier film had, uh … b-actors pretending not to have emotions (except Dolph Lundgren–he’s the bomb.) So the retooling Universal Soldier did on Turrican II (it’s not a total rewrite, but it’s a lot more than just a re-skinning) resulted in uglier and less-creative enemies, all in an attempt to make the game fit the license. Yeah, it’s a sad result of the process, but anything that gives the world another Turrican game is a positive.
So if you want to shoot the gears out of a million robot-bugs and cyborg fighters, Universal Soldier is an excellent (not to mention inexpensive) action-platform fix that is a perfect fit for any Genesis or Mega Drive owner with an itchy A-button thumb.