Trojan (Arcade) review
"Trojan is a side-scrolling hack-em-up game from Capcom which I played in the flesh just ONCE in a milk bar during pre-teenhood, circa 1986. I have incredibly vivid memories of that lone encounter, and the tale of my first reunion with the game via emulation some dozen years later is right up there with all of those sweeping sagas of reunited long-lost wartorn twins! "
Trojan is a side-scrolling hack-em-up game from Capcom which I played in the flesh just ONCE in a milk bar during pre-teenhood, circa 1986. I have incredibly vivid memories of that lone encounter, and the tale of my first reunion with the game via emulation some dozen years later is right up there with all of those sweeping sagas of reunited long-lost wartorn twins!
Well, not quite. But it's still a good story.
* Milk bar: For non-Australians, a little cafe or diner selling takeaway food and maybe basic supplies. A great place to buy a milkshake. *
It was a blissful summery day in the late 1980s. I think I was eleven years old. I was with my immediate family (mum, dad and baby sister) at our holiday house in Budgewoi on the central coast of New South Wales. We were going to catch the train back to Sydney that afternoon. I volunteered to run down to the milk bar at the circle and buy the hamburgers for lunch, knowing full well that this would be my last encounter with the cool videogames they had down there for another X months, and that I could play them using the burger change.
BEHOLD! I came across what was definitely the most unreal-looking game I'd ever seen. Mind you this was the time of life where I felt this way about almost every new coin-op I laid eyes on. The game was called Trojan, and in the demo I saw a punky warrior with sword and shield hacking and leaping his way through a bunch of thugs and hoods, but apparently in slummy modern settings. Unlike a lot of people twice my age I instantly understood what was going on here. After all, my favourite movie was Escape from New York. I'd even shown the video to my mate James, who'd then said, 'That's the best movie ever.' So when I saw the same combination of dark and scary run-down cities, freak bad guys and pre-technological weapons on the screen (though I didn't think in such big words back then) it all just clicked immediately.
My problem was that I had to be home real soon, since we had burgers to eat and a train to catch. I could allow myself just one turn. So I threw my whole self into that one game of Trojan and enjoyed it mightily. I cut down numerous mutant punks, leaped on the JUMP pads to smack people out of windows and died in the scary elevator section of level three. I even drew real blood in the process by accidentally pinching my hand between the glass cabinet overlay and the joystick. Wounded but excited and with Trojan on the brain, I went home for lunch...
I never saw a Trojan machine again after that day.
THANK YOU LIFE! THANK YOU SO VERY BLOODY MUCH!
Trojan's bash-em-up gameplay had so infected me at the time that I tried to turn it into a boardgame. I drew some jump squares on a grid and used M.U.S.C.L.E. figurines as the good and bad guys. Unfortunately this was no substitute for the real thing. Like being taken to Luna Park with my little friend Lisa from next door, Trojan seemed destined to go down as a wonderful but never-to-be-repeated experience from childhood.
12 YEARS LATER
In the last few years of the Twentieth Century, arcade emulation at home became possible and went gangbusters.
It was a terribly surreal moment when I first fired up Trojan in MacMAME and tried to comprehend that my long-lost game from the milk bar was now tooting away in demo mode on my desktop. I had been certain that I would never see this particular game again. What did it mean for the cosmos that I'd been proved wrong? It was in this dizzying moment that I first understood that people other than myself had cared about this game, and indeed about thousands of other long-gone arcade games.
Once the existential attacks passed, I dropped in a virtual coin and got ready to play Trojan for the second time.
Helen of Troy!
Did the game measure up to the memories? To everyone's relief, the initial answer is 'YES.' Trojan was still the tasty concoction I remembered: dark graphics, funky and grimy music and a steady onslaught of scary-looking punk mutants in ruined environments. The animations aren't complex but the funky attitudes of all the characters are conveyed well. I'm happy to be able to play around with the whole game at my leisure now, but in the same light I have also come to appreciate its pile of problems. The control system where 'up' is jump and the second button whips out your shield, which you can move through seven positions, is weird and none too successful. And though Trojan isn't a big game the difficulty is quite slaughterous and often silly, especially in the boss encounters. Lucky for us these virtual coins are, um, virtual, because Trojan gobbles them up.
The game is a true 2D beat-em-up (you can only walk left or right across surfaces, no vertical positioning) but graphically it has that attractive quasi-3D look of Golden Axe or Double Dragon. The scale is pleasingly big with your clean-cut blue-singletted hero as tall as %25 of the screen height, and generally there are only one or two floors onscreen at a time. To play off this restriction they introduce other fun ways to exploit the full screen area. If you walk past a building where punks might be throwing dynamite at you from a high window, there will be a flashing pad marked 'JUMP' on the pavement nearby. A super-leap from the pad will clear the height of the screen, allowing you to stab out at window-bound or flying enemies.
You can chop out with your sword, duck, stab from ducked position and leap and attack in mid-air. You have a life meter which would like to convince you that its eight units are A Whole Lot, but they're not because %90 of enemy attacks zap you for two or more damage at a time. Core enemies are purple-haired punks with maces and blazing red eyes. They stream in pretty constantly from both sides of the screen trying to whack you. Though they die in one juicy-sounding sword-chop, they begin ducking to attack your legs almost right from the start of the game. It's quite annoying to be forced to duck to be able to hit them back. This necessity almost phases out regular 'run along and hit the attack button' strategy in the case of your most common enemy, which is where I would most like to see it.
As per Kung-Fu Master there are knife-throwers here who like to chase you a little bit before standing back and lobbing their weapons at either your head or legs. In this game they're dressed up in feathered gladiatorial helmets. Unlike in Kung-Fu Master, you can deflect knives, mace attacks or pretty much anything else tossed at you with your shield, and doing so makes Trojan cunningly yell out 'OWAH!'
Hold the shield button then flip the joystick in the direction you wish to block. The deflected attacks produce great metallic rings and squalls on the soundtrack. This blocking is a novel idea, but you're rarely given enough opportunity to use it. Enemies pour in so constantly that if you drop everything to block the knife that's coming in at three'o'clock, someone will undoubtedly thump you in the back from nine'o'clock. What's even harsher are the grenades some knife-throwers mix into their attacks. If you don't deflect one of these it will blast off half your life, and if you do it will send your sword and shield flying away! Being reduced to punching while you scramble across the screen in an attempt to recover your armaments usually makes you wish you had let the grenade splatter you.
The game kicks off in a wrecked downtown area. Graphics throughout are very bleak and dark, brown and grey, but in this way they create the distinctive 'nuked future' feel of Trojan. Crumbling shopfronts, manholes and rubble heaps abound. Level two finds you in a rocky desert zone (but still mostly grey and brown.) Here they introduce squat armoured figures who hover overhead via helicopter-beanies and rain bombs upon you. Thank goodness there are still jump pads in the desert, allowing us to soar up and scrape the beanie baddies and crossbow-firing creeps off the tall rock formations. The hacking action is pretty relentless and good fun.
Level three out of six is where the more grueling random slaughter of Trojan begins to bite you. It's called 'Hiding Place 1' and you must walk back and forth across the screen's corridors, descending via alternating elevators into a scary underground fortress. As if punks clubbing you in the head at each elevator isn't bad enough, in every second corridor they hit you with the grapefruit-sized SPIDERS! These drop suddenly from the ceiling on threads, connecting with your head if they can manage it. If this attack misses they will sit suspended at mid-height and start shooting venom. 'Ha, I'm too quick for that!' you think, whipping your shield out. So now the spider descends another foot in the blink of an eye and shoots your legs. Duck and shield again... except now other spiders have dropped down all over the damn place. Venom squirting everywhere. You jump up, you're running away, being shot in the back and taking yucky arachnids in the face.
'OooooWAH!' (The amusing death cry of Trojan.)
What's quite funny is that after continuing about four times (if you didn't give up), you'll breathe a sigh of relief at having left level three's savagery behind you. But level five will turn out to be exactly the same design, except with more futuristic backdrops and the added pain of grenades being ejected from the walls and twin knife-thrower attacks!
Boss fights are also a worry because they can seem crazily random. What I ultimately learned is that it rarely pays to adopt strategy or sense against these guys. When you first see Mamushi, the bald muscleman giant with a telescopic metal arm, you might think to duck beneath the arm and stab his legs. Maybe it will work once, but then he starts magically blocking all your blows no matter where they're aimed. After several deaths at his arms I just leaped in, ducked and mashed the button. I came out bruised but victorious.
Consider now the curious case of the hunchback named 'Goblin' who tosses spiked steel globes at you while dancing around the screen. Trying to ward off the assault with my shield got me killed about six times in a row. My blood pressure was taking damage. Solution? Leap in and mash the button.
Consider Achilles, the final bad guy. He's big, his sword is huge, but forget about strategy or finding his heel - that kind of thinking will get you killed. Just leap in there and mash the button.
You may be detecting a pattern here. Sometimes you'll still die in the process, but sometimes you won't, and that's better than thinking about it a whole lot and dying anyway. It can feel cheap but, heck, at least it's different.
So I get frustrated playing Trojan but I rarely get bored. The greatest proportion of my enjoyment actually comes from the atmosphere. There's a good feel for the industrial relics left in this bashed-up environment and for the characters who make use of it. Everyone's bolted up in used-looking metallic gear and cast-off punk stylings. They have adopted a gladiatorial or tribal spirit which is evident in their armour and Greek-style helmets, in the whole Trojan concept of the game.
The scenery has a convincing 'dead industry' look, with beaten elevators chugging away in labyrinths, torn concrete structures sticking up in the air and mines and dynamite lying around. It even sounds beaten. The wonky elevator sound-effect might be the best one in the game. I also love the music here. Along with Black Tiger, Trojan has my favourite soundtrack amongst Capcom games of this era. The score has a grimy synth aesthetic with level themes coming in two flavours: funky or scary. There are also great metallic stings when you insert coins or complete a level.
It has to be said that beating Trojan isn't very rewarding in terms of what the game has in store for you if you do. Well, you do get to read a few howling messages which I won't spoil here. The game gleefully showed no pretense to any kind of plot or dialogue on the journey through, so why start now? Clearing levels elicits messages such as,
NOW ADVANCE AGAINST THE FOLLOWING ENEMIES
YOU HAVE FINALLY GOOD LUCK
You 'have finally' for your efforts a neat screen with a roll-call of the different bad guys: the high point. Savour it because you're now sent back to level one, which may prompt you to say, 'No thanks.'
Trojan will always be special to me as 'that thrilling one-off game from the milk bar which came back to me over a decade later'. In its own right it's got a cool concept (and one which a lot of people never understood, apparently), a dark and scary atmosphere, engaging score and some decent hacking action. The major blow against it is the high and skittish difficulty. The randomness of the whole enterprise can make many parts very silly and force many continues, especially the button-mash bosses and the spider corridors. The game is also kind of monotonous overall with a lowish enemy variety, and the shield idea never takes off.
Still, Trojan is a strong slice of imagination. It's just not one of the better-playing platformers Capcom has produced. I'd say check it out once, and if it doesn't work for you just go and watch Escape from New York instead.
-- Trojan -- 6/10 --
Community review by bloomer (February 05, 2004)
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