There's this theory I have about American films, and that's that the monsters of US cinema during the 1980s were middle-class teenagers. Let's face it, the reason all those masked killer movies were so popular wasn't because the masked killer kept making jokes, or the special effects were clever, or anything - it was because middle-class American teenagers kept getting horribly murdered.
It was perfectly clear that the audience wasn't hoping the middle-class American teenager who'd split up from the rest of the group would notice there was another person in the room and, for example, run outside: it was rooting for the masked killer to hurry up and bash the middle-class American teenager over the head with his trademark walnut bookcase (or whatever). The psychology behind wanting the middle-class American teenagers are vile.
The 1990s needed new monsters, and who better to project America's feelings of guilty impotence at than Johnny Foreigner dictators and drug barons? Far easier to put them in films (and, as here, games) than confront the problems. (You're bound to have seen Lethal Weapon 2 for example. But not, of course, Natural Born Killers - the film they banned in Britain because it's to blame for ten murders.
That, say, the bonkers people who actually did the killings aren't. And how exactly do you justify banning NBK while Disney's 1977 movie Candleshoe - starring Jodie Foster, the obsession with which actress spurred John Hinckley to shoot Ronald Reagan - is still freely available to children?). But anyway.
Irritating, isn't it, being harangued? That's what it's like playing Jungle Strike. Throughout the game you're battered with uneasily right-wing US politics, from snide comments during the intro about Congress cutting the spy satellite programme to the game ending abruptly if you blast a "high-profile" hostage in error. Ban it, that's the solution.
Politics aside (except of course they're not) Jungle Strike is an adequate conversion of the Mega Drive game. Sloppily, unlike its precursor Desert Strike, the game hasn't been tidied up graphically in the process. This lends it a tawdry air, not all helped by the DEVICE OF THE DEMON OF DOOM loading routine, which not only tells you it's 'Loading' but also intermittently 'Unpacking'. Gnnghh.
Put aside also your ideas that this may be a 3D game - it's a trick, as you fly at a fixed height. Indeed, the only time the 3D comes into play is when you can't quite place yourself in relation to the map due to the acute perspective. And in a (aaargh) Tower Assault sort of way, plot plays a big part in Jungle Strike.
The narrative thrust of the story is that the previously unmentioned son of the villain from the first game has teamed up with a drug lord to nuke mainland America, and in fits and starts you have to see off the drug lord's minions, form a 'strike team', bash the base coordinates of the previously unmentioned son of the villain from the first game from a captive and then blow it up. But unlike (aaarghh) Tower Assault, Jungle Strike is terribly good fun. Phew. (Or is it? Let us see.)
We shall examine a typical session of Jungle Strike. Settling for the keyboard option in place of the awkward joystick/keyboard combination, you curse the lack of support for the CD32 joypad or two-button joysticks at large. The game begins, and you are commanded to prevent the drug lord's minions from destroying important US monuments (or something).
You fly around a bit to familiarise yourself with the slightly inertia-y controls; no problem for players of Gravity 2. You call up your information console, ruing the fact that your ammo, fuel and armour readouts are tucked away on this supplementary screen; also that pressing fire cycles through the map, and the mission and sub-mission details so that it's tetchily easy to scroll past the one you wanted. There are your assigned targets - off you go.
You come in on a straight path. Error. Testy villains with rifles run around and pot at you. You strafe them with your machine-gun, and after three direct hits they deign to fall down. Tsk. Armed lorries zoom about, and your co-pilot locks on with a missile or two. Explosions tear up the (strangely desolate) Washington roads. A single rifleman staggers from the smoking wreckage, but a few rounds finishes him off and the hostage is free to scramble up the escape ladder. Victory is yours. On to the next sub-mission.
Ripple dissolve to a later stage of the game. A jungle section. Low on fuel and with none showing on the map, you're blasting open buildings. A pointlessly tedious element this, especially as an inadvertent extra shot during the building's destruction zaps its contents. But fortune smiles upon you, and you uncover that valuable petrol can. You co-pilot bungles winching it aboard on the first pass, and you look forward to rescuing a better assistant from the POW camps on the next level.
Now you swoop into a heavily guarded missile base. It's not your primary mission, but generally you can tackle the sub-levels out of order, dependent on knowing the location of your targets. (On some levels, the device of having to rescue a hostage who knows these locations imposes a realistic and unobtrusive structure - take note, (aaarghh) Tower Assault)
A tank spots your approach, but keeping your cool you swing around the monster ahead of its tracking turret, your gunfire automatically aimed by your co-pilot. An oily cloud unfoils into the sky as the tank explodes, leaving its charge of missile components open to attack. Success. But what's this? An enemy helicopter has been alerted to your presence. It pursues you across the forests. An ill-timed evasive manoeuvre, and your gunship rebounds from a palm tree, drinking up your energy levels as all obstacles are deemed to cause equal damage. Another repellent flaw. The helicopter picks up on your uncontrolled spin and rockets you to the ground. Damn its eyes.
Ripple dissolve to a further level. Beyond the night attack, where your blazing cannon lights you up like a beacon unless you turn up the monitor brightness and be done with it. Now you're grappling with a stolen stealth fighter, having already surprised the villains with a hover boat attack and motorbike chase.
The aeroplane handles differently from your gunship, and you invariably crash it upon takeoff, cursing the lack of information about the fighter and the way you're atypically returned to your faraway base for your next life. Swerving around the airstrip this time around, you concentrate on blowing an island's bridges. But the massive ground defences pound you off the screen. You have let down the President and his white-haired mom, Bob.
Bash the middle-class American teenager
The similarities between levels of Jungle Strike quickly become apparent. New missions and challenges (the night attack, for example, or the one where you have to stop drug shipments reaching the shore) can't disguise the fact that shuttling the gunship between points of the map becomes stale with age.
The excitement of the game comes from blundering into tactical ambushes and scrapping with superior numbers, but as soon as you realise you can avoid trouble by circling an encampment to weed out tricky tricksters and then shuffling, rather than zooming, into the area itself, the thrill is somewhat deprecated.
It's as if the designers spotted this themselves, as the later levels rely far too heavily on the trick of severely limiting your munitions so you have to hunt leadenly among the huts. They also have an unfriendly habit of putting slightly too many hostages in a building so you're forced to go back and forth between locations for really no good reason; and at points you're given no choice about performing some ludicrous task the smallest error in which ends the game.
For instance, instead of waiting on the ground like every other hostage in the game, a defecting general takes it into his head to run into a tower and stand on the roof where, inexplicably, your winchman can't collect him. You have to destroy the tower to save him. But destroying the tower reveals a soldier who shoots the general. So you have to destroy the tower and shoot the soldier remarkably accurately, having to use exactly the right number of bullets as the next one hits the general. Tch.
Leafing back to Tim Tucker's review of the original Desert Strike, his main criticisms appeared to be that the game had few missions (four - Jungle Strike has nine, although the sub-levels bloat the figure substantially) and that the levels were too samey. This did not prevent him from awarding the game a spectacular 92%. Perhaps I am less tolerant than AP's famously generous and chummy crudely-reanimated zombie guitarist, but rather than seeing the lack of variety as a minor point to be quibbled over, I regard it as a major failing of the game.
Playing Jungle Strike at length I found myself mentally switching off, and flying around listlessly as yet another tank-sniper-enclaved mission objective combination hove into view. An undeniably fun game, but one that should be rationed.