Friday, September 3, 2010

East vs. West: Last / Red Alert (1989)

Back when NEC was trying to launch the TurboGrafx-CD system in the US, one of the PC Engine games they deemed suitable to bring over from Japan was Sin-Nihon Laser Soft's Rambo-esque action title, Red Alert.

Here, it was retitled Last Alert, apparently to eliminate the Cold War-era reference or avoid conflict with some trademark or other, but the gameplay and graphics remained the same, with bare-chested, head-banded super soldier Guy Kazama battling an endless stream of Vietnamese and Russian troops.  The story has something to do with a global network of authoritarian leaders bent on world domination, which in videogame terms means our hero is employed by a mysterious agency to singlehandedly beat each of them up.

Both versions are rendered in English, except for the voice acting.  The animated intermissions and boss monologues were redubbed with the notoriously bad English-language acting common to the era; everybody sounds way too young, insincere and vaguely hyperactive, while the Japanese performances are much more credible.  Background music and sound effects are the same -- in fact, one sequence featuring a political event retains the original Japanese language background audio, with only the foreground character's speech rendered in English.  The story sounds even lamer in its adopted tongue, but the graphics aren't bad, and games like these were my first serious exposure to the manga/anime style:

It's not a bad game, actually.  The limited memory of the first-generation PC Engine CD system means that each level tends to look repetitive, and the maps are small.  But good use is made of the CD-ROM format to provide gameplay variety.  In the first level, section 1 provides Ikari Warriors-style run-and-gun action:

The second section is more of a maze game, with Guy planting bombs at key locations in the enemy base before fighting a tank and making his escape:

The third section is a forced-scrolling survival challenge, sending Kazama running down the street, trying to avoid or destroy enemy soldiers, jeeps, and motorcycles before jumping onto the wing of a Stealth fighter and making yet another escape:

The second level transports Guy from the Vietnamese jungle to a frozen Siberian wasteland, with a similar mix of action -- run-and-gun, then hostage rescue, followed by a race against the clock.

The game can be difficult, but fortunately for my aging gaming skills there's also a bit of RPG flavor to the proceedings.  Guy Kazama earns experience points with every kill, and levels up as target thresholds are crossed, lengthening his life bar and providing access to more powerful weapons.  When he hits the Major level, he gains access to a three-way spread shot that suddenly makes the game much easier, especially given the latest in Geneva Convention technology -- bulletproof hostages:

I played Last Alert all the way through back in the day on the TurboGrafx-16, and found myself enjoying the original Red Alert quite a bit.  It's mindless action, and pretty generic, but it's all well-executed.  The intermissions look pretty, the CD-quality music proves more memorable than I had thought, and it's challenging but playable.  Good stuff.

Either version is playable; if the Japanese original appeals, you may be able to find it for purchase here:

Red Alert PC-Engine CD

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