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Elevator Action (NES) artwork

Elevator Action (NES) review

"The gameplay remains repetitive, the pace never quickens, the challenge spikes early on, and if you haven't lost interest by level 3 I would be surprised. Elevator Action may be regarded as a classic, but that doesn't mean its still relevant or worthwhile."

A grappling hook connects with the roof of a hotel with a taut line attached to it. A secret agent slides down the line, gliding with ease only to stop midway and make sweet love to the rope. While wiggling his way down, the most obnoxious BEE-DOO-BEE-DOO-BEE-DOO cries out from your television speakers. The agent drops down and strikes a mean pose as diabolical music blares. We're supposed to feel like a badass at this point, but staring at our Ron Howard look-alike of a protagonist doesn't inspire much hope.

Just the opening scene with its terribly dated graphics and annoying sound practically begged me to hate Elevator Action. As I do with most ugly and irritating games, I only felt pity. It wasn't Elevator Action's fault that it had aged so poorly. However, its true shortcomings didn't originate from the sights and sounds. Even the gameplay, relevant in 1983, was dated.

(Okay, maybe not conceptually, but the mechanics and dynamics of the NES version do reek of age.)

I know, Elevator Action sounds like a low budget porn. In actuality, it's an action title originally found munching quarters happily in arcades across North America. It eventually invaded homes, jumping onto Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and NES. It captivated gamers with its simple premise: search a hotel with nauseatingly bright wallpaper for secret documents hidden behind brownish-red doors, gun down enemy spies, and sneak down to the ground level and hit the road. Since taking the stairs is for chumps, your main mode of transport is the elevator (hence the title). It's unknown what the architect who designed this building was smoking, but rather than install one elevator that takes you to every floor, he's installed a plethora of interspersed elevators in less than convenient locations. Many of them will drop you off in poorly lit hallways where enemy spies spill out from behind hidden doors. Some will only take you two floors down, forcing you to take another elevator and leaving you vulnerable to enemies. You'll chew your fingernails, you'll sigh in despair... You'll mash the 'B' button until your thumb goes numb.

After collecting every last document and heading out, it's onto the level 2... which looks similar to level 1. The difference in design is marginal. You'll creep down many of the same hallways and use many of the same elevators. After your successful first mission, you've seen the full breadth of surprises that Elevator Action has to offer. There are no new perils, traps, situations or even enemies.

The spies in black are your only opponents. One might've thought that the developers would include some other types of spies, perhaps armed with various weapons. Even attack dogs would have been a welcome change. It's because of the lack of enemy types that the challenge factor is unsteady. Level 1 is a cake walk, and can be completed with the meagerest of skill. Enemies rarely shoot, and when they do it can be easily avoided by crouching. Most of them can be taken out before they can even squeeze the trigger. Because the spies are the only true threat, they were the only means by which to kick up the difficulty, and beefing up the sole enemy meant having to deal with ridiculous odds early on. Come level 3, not only do the enemies fire but crouch, dodging your bullet. You'll inevitably bump into a situation where two spies will fire at the same time, one crouching and one standing. Once this happens, you're screwed.

Remove the spies, though, and there's no other challenging aspect. Without unique level designs, Elevator Action becomes a tedious and repetitive experience. Even if you can survive the onslaught after the second level, there's little fun or excitement to be had. Adding variety to both the level designs and the enemy types could have made for greater lasting value. Both concepts could have forced you to implement new strategies in the face of new situations while cutting back on the ridiculous shift in difficulty.

Challenge is welcome, and yet in Elevator Action's case it's a turn off. It becomes frustrating long before it has the chance to become fun, and the uninteresting gameplay doesn't help. The gameplay remains repetitive, the pace never quickens, the challenge spikes early on, and if you haven't lost interest by level 3 I would be surprised. Elevator Action may be regarded as a classic, but that doesn't mean it's still relevant or worthwhile.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (August 18, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Elevator Action review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Masters posted August 18, 2011:

Nice job, Joe. The last paragraph, which is also your front page box text, needs an "it's" for "its" swap. Also, this sentence: As with most things ugly and irritating, I only felt pity could be misleading. Anyway, I'll stay away from this 'classic' based on your review.
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SamildanachEmrys posted August 18, 2011:

I'm glad you acknowledged that the real problems go beyond dated visuals and sound, since I had some concerns at the beginning that you were ripping into the game basically just for being old.

I have no urge whatsoever to play Elevator Action. A job well done, I'd say!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 18, 2011:

Thank you, gentlemen. I made some modifications that I hope will work.

Now that I've gotten this painful experience out of the way, I can move onto some other NES reviews and finish up that personal challenge. I think the letter 'I' is up next.
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qxz posted August 18, 2011:

Joe, despite your complaints against the NES version of Elevator Action, I'm still somewhat interested in hunting down a copy and taking it for a spin.

I played the original arcade game via Taito Legends on the PS2. The issues you have with the NES port -- the glacial pace and repetitive levels -- are certainly present in the arcade original, but there are some interesting mechanics, too (not dying by mere physical contact, shooting the lights out, among other things). I'm rather curious if the NES version keeps these ideas intact.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 19, 2011:

I guess one thing I didn't mention in the review is that the mechanics are fairly sound.

That and it's pretty entertaining to see a spy get crushed by an elevator.
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bloomer posted August 21, 2011:

I don't understand the line: 'Even the gameplay, relevant in 1983, was dated.'

Are you saying the gameplay of the original was bad? (Obviously it can't simultaneously be relevant and dated). Or of the NES version? What's the date of the NES version vs the original? This line is too vague for me on an important point.

I haven't played the NES version (and I'm a NES skeptic. Not a superskeptic, but I have seen enough ports of games where the NES version is what everyone knows, and it's the bad one) but I don't understand this comment. I'm moved to comment because, even though I had infinitely fewer critical faculties when I was 8, I was there when this game was new, and it definitely felt new. The stuff I remember thinking was coolest was - how the guys went in and out of the doors (so it was like an extra dimension) and how your karate kick move accounted for the scenery. That is, you could try the kick at any point in the scenery, and depending on where you were, you would move differently. This is really just a long way of saying 'You had a modicum of logical interaction with the scenery', but most games didn't have that. A jump was a jump. You couldn't jump and bump into complicated stuff like ceilings and elevator floors etc., and see your guy react accordingly, like you could in Elevator Action.

Does the NES give you the ability to shoot the lights out, also? Also as qxz said, it was the first game I played where you and the bad guys could actually walk through each other and nobody got hurt.
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SamildanachEmrys posted August 21, 2011:

I took that sentence to mean that the gameplay was good at the time but hasn't aged well - that if the gameplay was ever good it was because of context rather than being fundamentally fun (in contrast to, say, Tetris - still fun today). That's my interpretation, but you're right, it is unclear.

If I'm right about the intended meaning, then you're actually pretty much in agreement. The things that were good about it in 1983 were good only because it was 1983.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 22, 2011:

Both bloomer and Sam are correct.

Yeah, that does sound vague. I'll fix it (most likely tomorrow). Thanks for the input!

I should probably separate my judgment on the NES version from the arcade. I haven't played the arcade one, but still want to. Yes, you can shoot the light and karate kick, but these things still didn't raise the interest level for me. I honestly think I'll enjoy the arcade one more, if and when I do get to play it. Arcade-style games on NES don't seem to age well (like Door Door, which I also reviewed), but there are some that I enjoy even today like Bubble Bobble and Tetris.
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Leroux posted August 22, 2011:

Elevator Action Returns is awesome.

This review would be a lot better if you also review that because you will be that much cooler after playing it.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 22, 2011:

I've wondered if that was good or not. It looked awesome.
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qxz posted August 22, 2011:

JoeTheDestroyer wrote:
I should probably separate my judgment on the NES version from the arcade. I haven't played the arcade one, but still want to. Yes, you can shoot the light and karate kick, but these things still didn't raise the interest level for me. I honestly think I'll enjoy the arcade one more, if and when I do get to play it.

I dunno about that. In the likelihood* that the NES version is a 90% (or better) accurate port of the arcade version, your "enjoyment" of Elevator Action won't be much higher.

* Again, I've only played the arcade game, NOT the NES port.
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honestgamer posted August 22, 2011:

It's always difficult to tell. There were a number of NES home conversions that were better than their arcade inspiration (usually because they added depth rather than trying for pixel-perfect conversions)... and then there were many that the NES just couldn't handle what it needed to and the developers weren't smart enough to compensate.

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