Desert Strike is a game in which you fly missions in an Apache helicopter during a conflict that oddly resembles the first Gulf War. I say “oddly resembles” because, despite coming out about a year after that war ended and recreating a few memorable events that took place during the conflict, the game is very careful not to mention Iraq, Saddam Hussein or even SCUD missiles by name. Instead, the location is described as “somewhere in the desert” and the enemy leader is generically known as the “madman”. What, EA? Was the Iraqi market for Genesis games back then really so lucrative that you couldn’t afford offending them? Or maybe Saddam simply liked to torture his enemies by forcing them to play Dark Castle – the company certainly wouldn’t want to risk offending the only person who ever bought that game and actually got some kind of utility out of it.
Anyway, you’ll spend your time in Desert Strike flying around “somewhere in the desert”, preventing the launch of missiles, stopping oil from being dumped into the sea and occasionally rescuing hostages. This can get pretty intense, as there is always a reporter to rescue, some chemical weapons being smuggled in a garbage truck to intercept, or a prison break to facilitate. Unfortunately, a lot of this sense of urgency is lost once you realize that everything in the game goes into suspended animation any time it’s not on screen. It doesn’t take very long to realize that any crisis you may face can be put on indefinite hold as long as you simply ignore it. It’s pretty convenient in the game, though perhaps a bit troubling that real-life US foreign policy tends to also be based on this same assumption.
Ultimately, today’s elimination is more about numbers than anything else. Desert Strike is good; it’s sequel, Jungle Strike, is much better, and there were just too many great games still in this competition to consider allowing both into our tournament. It would be like snubbing Cookies & Cream to put both Vanilla and French Vanilla onto a list of the Top Ice Cream flavors. We had considered grouping all three of the Strike games (Desert, Jungle, and Urban) together, as we did with some other franchises (Streets of Rage, Madden), but decided not to mainly because the franchise really just wasn’t mainstream enough to warrant such treatment, and also because Jungle Strike was far and away our unanimous favorite of the series.