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Gang Wars (Arcade) artwork

Gang Wars (Arcade) review


"What's harder to explain are the numerous other problems. Gang Wars is characterized by slack issues that have grown increasingly noticeable since the Prisoners of War codebase it probably leveraged. Animation is stilted and choppy with not enough frames per attack, and the frames loop through at incongruent rates, one player throwing a punch and back to normal stance while the other still has his head careened back after a blow to the jaw. GW excels relative to its peers at providing a variety of different attackers, but negates that success by stacking them anyway – the same sprite may only be used once, but when it is you’ll fight three of the same guy at the same time anyway."



SNK, I loathe you.

You might wonder how someone could possibly harbor such a grudge, but what you did to the arcade brawler in the late ‘80s induces nausea. I have twice mounted my case against you. Complaints differed – one merely perplexing, the other maddening – but both were recognizable amongst their peers by virtue of being much worse. But here is the third and final nail to hammer home your legacy – the most playable of the trilogy, if nothing else – the jointly published Gang Wars. Alpha can share half your blame but assuredly there is more than enough to go around for this Double Dragon II imitator.

Meet Mike, player one, a brunette and master of the vacant stoic gaze – brood, baby! – and his partner Jackie, a keikogi clad Chan-knockoff boasting the effeminate gray locks of a former Hollywood starlet. Punch, kick and jump are their primary tactics, with a jump-kick combination available for players that truly don’t care whether their attacks connect. Both characters earn assignable attribute points in the categories of power, speed and stamina but heed my advice: investing wholesale in power yields the least offending experience. Five murderous minutes of T-Rex-reach sparring with the same boss will have you regretting your speed-and-stamina mindset, especially when the few (any?) visible gains are negated by the adventure artificially extended twice its necessary timeframe.

1989 New York
A little girl was taken away by someone unknown.


From the start Gang Wars falls victim to the usual beat ‘em up logic loopholes: if someone unknown has captured the girl, where do you start getting her back? But unlike Rick and Allen of 64th Street: A Detective Story, Mike and Jackie don’t have to take to the streets beating random people up; this text screen segues directly into someone unknown revealing himself. Meet JAGUAR:



Haha! So our nemesis is... a country bumpkin in a green fedora with a perpetual deer-in-headlights vapidity. But Jaguar is clearly more formidable than his outward appearance (at least for a guy like Mike, who stitches his name in script across the back of his lemon jacket). From the yokel’s shadow appears Cynthia, a “little girl” of at least 25 years held captive by the menace. Jaguar has presumably taken her hostage under some cockamamie notion it will help him get control of this little old town of… New York City.

The brass tacks are less amusing. Gang Wars is a beat ‘em up that lacks life gauges and names for any of its enemies. It employs the dated approach of separate buttons for punch and kick with no distinguishable advantage between either attack. Jumping is awkward and difficult to judge the distance of and attackers approaching from behind have an advantage due to poor turnaround fluidity, a quick press of the attack button usually not registering. Thankfully, most would-be-attackers are content standing idly waiting their turn. Most of these complaints are consistent with the era, the bar merely not yet raised by the brawler-defining Final Fight. Duly note, however, that Gang Wars makes no effort at any kind of innovation in a genre starved at the time.

What’s harder to explain are the numerous other problems. Gang Wars is characterized by slack issues that have grown increasingly noticeable since the Prisoners of War codebase it probably leveraged. Animation is stilted and choppy with not enough frames per attack, and the frames loop through at incongruent rates, one player throwing a punch and back to normal stance while the other still has his head careened back after a blow to the jaw. GW excels relative to its peers at providing a variety of different attackers, but negates that success by stacking them anyway – the same sprite may only be used once, but when it is you’ll fight three of the same guy at the same time anyway. Bosses will break combos at will but succumb to location-relative pratfalls, the kind where you repeatedly press attack and they continually fall down, stand back up and promptly fall down all over again. Be careful straying in certain territory or your character will fall off the bottom of the screen.

This is a comedy of beat ‘em up engine errors made all the more glaring by the slipshod presentation of the core product. Bosses are flamboyantly uninspired – you’ll duel with a shirtless Rambo-wannabe with a croquet mallet, a balding machete swinger, the leather daddy from the Village People (left) and a Freddy Krueger rip-off with a blonde ponytail and green dress. Cut scenes are marred by poor translations: “However no one who has come into this base is going to get away alive?” Main character Mike looks like he couldn’t decide between dressing as a fireman or a cowboy for Halloween. And Gang Wars can’t even keep its locations and theme straight – New York's Chinatown bears little resemblance to ancient China, yet you’ll cross stone dragon murals and red pillars supporting bamboo awnings, fighting tigers and burly samurai swinging swords and throwing lightning in gang-infested Manhattan.

Even the tolerable if forgettable soundtrack is stricken by an incessant laugh effect given to most opponents, who pause in the midst of battle to regularly belly over the motivational techno trance. There is a running theme in this game of characters that wear brightly colored gloves -- like they all shop at the same Old Navy or something -- and keep their mouths hung agape even when not speaking.

Gang Wars, if nothing else, is a harbinger of farcicality to come in the genre, perceivably a real influence on titles like Mug Smashers and Knuckle Bash. Unfortunately, I'm not sure anyone would miss those games. It exists as good comic fodder -- more fun to read about than play, no doubt -- but as far as games go, its unbelievable something like this was released without more refinement, a coherent story or balanced attribute system or characters that didn't pick out their wardrobe in the dark at least. Its saving grace, if any, is that with a power focused approach it becomes tolerably short, with enough varied characters and scene changes to maybe merit a single playthrough. But it'd be impossible to give Gang Wars a more ringing endorsement than that -- it simply isn't very good in any respect.

Rating: 3/10

Leroux's avatar
Staff review by Winston Wolf (July 01, 2010)

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