Heavy Barrel (NES) review
"The overhead run 'n gunner is a genre that never quite came to fruition on the console front. The pioneering Ikari Warriors series, despite having three separate outings, could not overcome the dreadful archetype that defines it. Guerilla War seemed to get everything right, only to turn around and commit an unpardonable sin - players would infinitely re-spawn upon death, so if they wanted a challenge, they would need to imagine their own handicap. Unfortunately, Heavy Barrel..."
The overhead run 'n gunner is a genre that never quite came to fruition on the console front. The pioneering Ikari Warriors series, despite having three separate outings, could not overcome the dreadful archetype that defines it. Guerilla War seemed to get everything right, only to turn around and commit an unpardonable sin - players would infinitely re-spawn upon death, so if they wanted a challenge, they would need to imagine their own handicap. Unfortunately, Heavy Barrel may be the best bet for players seeking Ikari style gaming - unfortunate because, like all of Data East's NES releases, it is a lazy, almost negligent port of one of their arcade hits. The game is merely a soulless shadow of its former self.
It is up to our no-name, all-American hero, upon parachuting to a desert island under siege, to take down a terrorist operation threatening nuclear holocaust. So far, all the makings of a free-flowing blast 'em up are in place, but we couldn't be so lucky. Employing all the sneakiness of a kick to the groin, the terrorists have given bright red uniforms to personnel charged with guarding all-important keys, which one can pry from their freshly dead bodies and use to unlock a series of typical power-ups. Upgrades such as the flame thrower and super grenades make the default weapons seem useless by comparison but - here's the hitch - come with limited ammo. If the player is conservative with his firepower, he should have more than enough to make it to his next fill, although this defeats the whole purpose of the genre. Overkill has been substituted with timid, careful blasting, mercy must be given to enemies who are not necessary to kill, and lofty fits of destruction must be administered in short spurts. Too much thinky, not enough shooty. Should a stray bullet graze our commando, it is back to the pitiful default weapons. It's often better just to reset the game at this point than attempt to charge through enemy strongholds ill equipped.
''Wait just a minute, though, how is it possible for one man to take on an entire regime of bad guys?'' Ah, the most frequently asked question regarding video game logic, and Heavy Barrel may be the only game to ever make the answer apparent - the hero is up against flagrant idiots. Grunts casually jog in straight lines across the screen, come to a stop, and might toss a bullet or two at the hero if he waits around long enough. Most other enemies attack from a standstill, never giving up their perch. The terrorists in command of heavy machinery should waste no time in squashing one little ground troop, right? These brain-dead goons disagree. They are content just trying to scare the hero by driving around and then backing away from him.
The game bears a resemblance to the classic Metal Gear, down to the enemies who take on the gawky ''Solid Snake strut''. Battlegrounds, like those in MG, alternate between unremarkable jungle or desert locales and high-tech military installations, but even less detail is present in this title. While the outdoor stretches can be dull and barren, it's nothing compared to the enemy bases dominated by hideous color schemes. Repeating tiles of brown are overlaid with mint green pipe, and approximately half of everything in the game is a shade of purple. The only things that look good are the oversized mechanical bosses, and we don't even have the pleasure of seeing them blown up in a satisfying manner.
Heavy Barrel has one ace up its sleeve. Unbeknownst to the terrorists, parts of a dismantled super weapon lay scattered throughout the island, hidden away by the hostage technician who invented it. Should one collect six of these parts, the most glorious segment of unbridled carnage is ushered in with a hardly intelligible, undeniably gratifying voice clip…
Working on a time limit, the bazooka to which the game owes its namesake lifts all inhibitions and shifts the emphasis from plodding, sluggish bullet weaving to the reckless abandon the game should have boasted all along. While activated, photon blasts powerful enough to immediately defeat most bosses are delivered as often as the player can pound them out. Don't think of this as a ticket through the island, though - the heavy barrel is a once or twice per game deal. To wield the weapon when it will prove most effective, persistent players must open up all chests, map out their findings (whether on paper or in the mind), and then pick and choose power-ups accordingly. A laborious task to say the least, and one more appropriate for dungeon crawlers than shooting games. Further leeching upon one's enjoyment, the scrolling can't keep up with the hero, resulting in a frustrating lag time that stints the player's euphoric hustle. Because of this condition of a lazy port job, even the shining moment of the game becomes a stumbling block.
The bloodied carcass of an arcade title can be witnessed in other places as well. A lone mine cart comes to a crash at the end of its track and then tumbles off-screen - just the kind of spontaneous ''cool part'' that would fit well in the arcade, but here it comes across as an impromptu imitation. Cargo elevators turn into torture chambers for the hero as enemies pile in, but it is more sluggish and awkward than chaotic. Only a handful of soldiers can attack at a time, and when slowdown occurs, it is the hero, and not his surroundings, that are affected first. If the game offers any challenge at all, it is because of its own clunkiness. Take for example a crane boss that aims to crush the player with its extendable arms. By the time one sees the attack coming, it may already be too late. Though there are several seconds to get out of the way, the crawling pace of the hero prohibits it.
So shoddy is this port that the opening theme of the game is apparently incomplete. The repetitive eight-note composition is certain to offend the ear of those who do not immediately press start. From there, the soundtrack redeems itself with hummable, urgent tunes that fit well into the militaristic atmosphere. But as with everything else in Heavy Barrel, there is a downside: only a few different songs are recycled throughout the game.
The foundation is in place for Heavy Barrel to break free from the realm of mediocrity, and perhaps it would have if less apathetic developers had been in charge of bringing it over to the system. As it stands, the game falls short (to various degrees) in every crucial area. Not even the crazy heavy barrel segments can save it, for they are only exciting in contrast to the rest of the action. If you’re looking for something in the vain of Ikari Warriors, however, and your heart is set, there is no other title I can recommend over this one.
Look for it in the arcades.
Featured community review by deathspork (June 17, 2004)
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