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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

E-SWAT: City Under Seige

This is one of those games, like Golden Axe, that for some reason never received a really faithful home conversion, so praise be for MAME. Having thus finally played the arcade and the (much-reviled) SMS versions thoroughly, side by side, I find myself inclined to be a little more lenient on this not-quite-a-conversion than has been the tradition ...


The lack of faithfulness to the arcade version hits you as soon as level 1 begins, and that huge discrepancy has perhaps made people judge these graphics more harshly than they might have done, had this been a stand-alone SMS title without anything to live up to. Having said that, they are hardly a masterpiece of 8-bit design (though certainly better, if less true to the arcade, than the lurching, blocky mess that is C64 E-SWAT). The sprites are tiny compared to the arcade, with little resemblance. The animation is fairly stiff, and the colour use questionable to say the least, with garish tones that undermine the grim, dystopian theme of futuristic urban anarchy and ultra-violence. The detail level isn't bad, however, there is some decent parallax scrolling on a couple of levels (absent, for some reason, even on the Amiga), and some additional foreground scenery - not parallaxed, unfortunately, but it does add some sense of depth.

Presentation is also good, with some nice mugshots of the boss criminals, a brief cutscene for acquiring your power-up armour, and a pretty good end sequence.


(Average, but I have seen a lot worse, and at least they move well. Had the programmers attempted to replicate the size of the arcade sprites on the SMS, that probably would not have been the case. Cf. Altered Beast if in doubt ...)


Some recognisable (but tinny) arcade tunes, and poor SFX: especially the mouse-like squeaking of the hostage in level 2, which inclines me to wonder why the programmers seem to have forgotten that the SMS can in fact handle little bits of digitised sound. The guns and explosions are all you will generally hear, and they are not particularly great, tending to sound more like crunching than combustion.


(Weak, even by SMS standards.)


I get the impression that this game was deliberately re-structured to work better on an 8-bit system, eliminating some of the larger and more complex bosses and replacing them with smaller opponents that could move and fight better on weaker hardware (though some omissions seem excessive, such as the entire third level and its not very big or complex chain-swinging boss). While that seems fair enough in principle, it isn't a total excuse, as Shinobi - a very similar arcade game - had a far more accurate SMS conversion, including the large boss creatures.

On the subject of Shinobi, E-SWAT's gameplay mechanics have also been simplified on the SMS, eliminating the Shinobi-style upper level. This reduces most of the game to relentlessly walking forwards, shooting enemies out of your path, occasionally shooting the enemies sneaking up behind you, and pretty much ignoring any enemies in the upper screen (You can shoot upwards, but it's generally not worth the bother, as the ground enemies will just swarm you). This would get incredibly boring, were the actual levels not so short.

The boss stages, which (thankfully) make up a significant amount of the gameplay, are rather better, with fairly well thought out attack patterns. Most of the bosses are original to the SMS, though a few are taken from the arcade. They vary in difficulty. Some can be frustrating at first, but the infinite continues allow you to learn their patterns, and special weapons can be used effectively against them.

One definite improvement over the arcade (and every other version) is that your armour actually counts for protection. Take enough hits, however, and you lose it a la Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, and have to fight on in your level 1 state (street clothes rather than boxer shorts, but just as useless against enemy fire), and without your big machine gun. Ammo is also more plentiful in this version, reducing the frequency of cheap deaths which tended to occur in the arcade game from running out of bullets in the heat of battle.


(Some vague improvements and sensible omissions from the arcade game, but also a lot of unnecessary omissions, including - most egregiously - the two-player mode. What is left is, in general, fairly uninspiring, though livened up somewhat by some decent boss battles.)


Not the worst SMS title or even the worst coin-up conversion (Not while we have Strider, certainly ...). However, I could imagine being seriously disappointed had I, in its day, paid thirty pounds for this expecting a faithful conversion, as opposed to having played it for free on MEKA having just read a scathing review of it. Which was not altogtether unjustified ...