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Guerilla War (NES) artwork

Guerilla War (NES) review

"Think back to a time when a shoot-em-up game could more accurately have been dubbed a blow-em-up; a time when violence in video games was the last thing on Joe Lieberman's mind; a time when a game didn't have to go through a million metal detectors only to become a pathetic distilled version of its original powerful self that could barely stand up on its own two tank treads. Yes, the glory days of the NES played host to a number of action-packed games where if you were carrying a souped-up machi..."

Think back to a time when a shoot-em-up game could more accurately have been dubbed a blow-em-up; a time when violence in video games was the last thing on Joe Lieberman's mind; a time when a game didn't have to go through a million metal detectors only to become a pathetic distilled version of its original powerful self that could barely stand up on its own two tank treads. Yes, the glory days of the NES played host to a number of action-packed games where if you were carrying a souped-up machine gun that could fire 900 rounds a second, you were a sitting duck. Take the elements of those classics like Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Iron Tank, mix them in a big black archetypal witch's cauldron, and stir the concoction thoroughly to come out with the brilliant blow-em-up known simply as Guerrilla War. And before anybody asks, this game does NOT have any monkeys in it.

The eponymous battle raging all throughout the game certainly draws parallels from a certain real-life country which, in the interest of protecting privacy, I will call Islandia. Suffice it to say, however, that natives of Islandia have a very hard time leaving the country, and that Islandian cigars are illegal for sale in the U.S. And on this out-of-the-way land that we are conveniently calling Islandia, they have sent one man to thwart the entire evil force bent on dominating the world. That man, so it appears, is Ringo Starr dressed in light blue army fatigues. While sending out the legendary Beatle drummer and former miniature train conductor on his own to battle the Islandian forces may get you laughed at by most people and reasonably intelligent roosters, it actually shows itself to be quite an ingenious military tactic.

As per the usual for these types of games, the standard one-man Ringo - er, Rambo - is deployed by himself into a humid tropical jungle against an insurmountable number of enemy troops and is expected to survive with only deft movements and a select few typical weapons. Bombs, flamethrowers, long-range torpedoes, and the always convenient instant full-screen nuke squeeze their way into the mix here, but there's one major thing that sets Guerrilla War apart from its more hardcore ancestors. Other games provide you a couple of lives with the occasional chance for extra ones offered at sparse, inconsistent intervals. You may be able to hotfoot your way around a constant gunfire assault from all directions for a half-hour or so, but at some point most war games all end, and you are able to walk away barely intact, knowing the bloody beads of sweat from your overexerted capillaries and the inability to move your thumbs were not won in vain.

Guerrilla War, on the other hand, while not shy to throw millions of uniformed assassins at you at once, alleviates the pressure associated with most old blow-up-or-get-blown-up games by making you feel as though it wants you to get to know it better. It does not give you the hard time that other games of its ilk will at the drop of a hat. When you have beaten it roughly half an hour after you started, you will not be sweating, your hands will not be irreparably cramped, and you will not feel like a total zombie for having stared at a screen for hours on end just to save the world from nuclear winter. Were it not for the infinite continues Guerrilla War gives you, none of this easy shooting would be possible and the game would fall into the mosh pit of the rest of its genre, never to stand out from its tough-as-nails brethren.

Initially I balked at the unlimited opportunities for resurrecting yourself - it seemed babyish and designed too obviously for an audience that was less intimate with such games of mass destruction. However, as I kept falling to land mines and rogue ammunition from all angles despite repeatedly giving it the college try, I welcomed this feature with open arms. As I infiltrated more enemy camps and felt more and more the final boss taunting me, breathing down my neck, I was glad to know that if ever my life reserve reached zero, I could gladly press Start and leap right back into the action with minimal penalties. This never-ending artesian spring of continues allowed me to freely reach the end, see all that GW had to offer. It was brilliance. It was as if a very generous Game Genie had been installed inside the cartidge itself. Simply put, I loved barrelling through this game just to see how my willingness to continue infinitely would reward me in the end.

Most of the fun in Guerrilla War, besides knowing that there is an end to the long road, is derived from the nonstop action. At any given point there are at least ten enemies to shoot or throw grenades at. Throw a grenade in the trenches or at their fortifications and hope for a flamethrower icon to rise from the rubble. Where your foes retreat in fear of your awesome arsenal or get blown to shreds staring in said awe, more are ready to jump in with reckless abandon. Empty tanks and mining carts lie around waiting for you to commandeer them. You are the king of all you survey; you can save the bound and gagged hostages or put a rocket right through their faces. The activity in this game never ceases - it's an ADD patient's dream. You can switch from the spread gun to the flamethrower and back in a matter of seconds, and before you know it a Sherman tank has blended your body in with the pavement. If this is not wholesome fun that the entire family can enjoy together, I don't know what is.

Guerrilla War bears a look similar to SNK's other war-based NES game, Iron Tank. Many of the tanks and some of the turrets take their basic look from that game, and the soldiers look a little bit more refined in this slightly later effort. The problem comes into play when all the intense gunning starts up. With you, maybe three hostages, scads of evil soldiers, and a billion speedboats and helicopters on-screen at once, you'll start to see more flicker than a microwave with three potatoes in it. This causes more than its share of unnecessary premature deaths; you think you're strolling casually around a stray bullet and don't see another one until it's pierced your aorta. With what basically boils down to infinite lives at your disposal, however, you can run into the thick of battle with guns a-blazin' and never notice that chip on your shoulder (no, really, see it? The thick, red, dry clump?). If you consider cheap deaths and unlimited continues an even trade, then it shouldn't bother you too much.

With all these stray bullets lying about, it'd be a shame if they were unwieldy and sticky. Luckily, the control is a big help in your light blue Ringo's military conquest of Islandia (a second player can play as his yellow-clad, not-famous twin brother). Whether on muddy trench-spotted land or in the water that never shows itself to be deeper than three feet, you have an unlimited supply of bullets and grenades that are easy to throw and simple to aim. Though it may be difficult to tell where you're headed at times with the glut of sprites causing things to flicker in and out of existence, you can count on the controller to get you where you're going right nicely. The game's control is found to be especially responsive in vehicles, when you must manually take over the turning and firing, jumping in to rule over a squadron of fifty foot soldiers and jumping out to avoid the wrath of an explosion while you're stuck at the turret.

Alone or with a friend, Guerrilla War is a perfect example of pure, unadulterated entertainment released as it was meant to be from the start. Anyone can hop it at any time by pressing A and B at the same time; just when the odds seem too heavily stacked against you, your yellow-shirted reinforcements can run in and save the day. Pack some rations for this journey, particularly of the puffed cheese curl variety and caffeinated liquid varieties. Think of it as a party in a foreign nation, and everyone's invited. This game deserves a toast for being unashamed of its easiness and its giving away of continues with a cheerful heart. While far from perfect, it is nevertheless to be celebrated for offering accessibility and a nearly inimitable degree of straightforward fun to even the most pathetic of amateurs.

In honor of the greatness of Guerrilla War, let's all light an Islandian cigar on the count of three.

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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