Light Crusader

Grade: A
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 9th
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1995
Genre: Tricky

What if The Immortal hadn’t sucked? I know that’s a tough concept to grasp, but let’s just think it through for a moment. What if, instead of a poorly controlled nightmare where you got killed every two seconds for things that you could hardly be faulted for, it actually lived up to its potential as a solid action RPG with furious combat, dungeons to explore, and devious puzzles that maybe didn’t insta-kill you if you got them wrong? The kind of game Will Harvey could put his name on the cover of without having to worry about me throwing garbage at him. Wouldn’t that game have been wonderful?

What are you asking him for? All townspeople are idiots.

In other words, what if it had been made by Treasure?

I only ask because that’s essentially what Light Crusader is – a game made by Treasure that’s an awful lot like the Immortal. Except good. So, nothing like The Immortal, actually. Still, both games feature isometric perspectives, and the gameplay is a blend of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving within an RPG setting; so conceptually, at least, the games really are pretty similar. The main difference between them is that the execution on Light Crusader is miles better than that of The Immortal. By the way, that sentence is one of the few instances where I would ever speak out against the execution of the people who made The Immortal.

Still, that’s not exactly saying much, and Light Crusader is a good enough game that it deserves recognition for feats far more impressive than simply being less terrible than The Immortal. For one thing, it has some of the most ingenious puzzles ever seen in a game of this type. We’ve pointed out before the general lack of any kinds of false leads or red herrings in games like this before. Even in really innovative, challenging games that blend action with problem solving, such as Portal or Braid, you can usually figure out the solution to a challenge by looking at the level design. Once you realize that every object, every room, every ledge, nook, and cranny has been included for a reason, and has some important part to play in completing a puzzle, it’s generally not too hard to put them together. For instance, if you’re stuck in a room which also has a crate and a small ledge sticking out of one of the walls, it’s a pretty safe assumption that whatever you need to get through that room will ultimately involve the ledge and the crate somehow. Someone could make the most challenging adventure game of all time just by adding in a few extra pieces that don’t do anything other than throw off the player, much the way Ikea thwarts my efforts to put together their furniture by tossing in some additional random parts that I may or may not need to assemble it. Some of them I don’t even think are furniture parts at all, so much as some kind of naturally occurring debris that Sweden has an excess of and furniture stores are their gateway to getting rid of it. But I’m getting off topic here…

Sadly, Sir David is nowhere near tall enough to go on the worm-people themed roller coaster.

Light Crusader doesn’t go as far as to try to throw you off with a bunch of excess items and unused areas, but it does force you to use objects in ways you won’t expect to. Explosive items aren’t just useful for blowing up barriers, but also for triggering switches. That’s not much of a stretch, but things get tricky when they are also used as mobile platforms to step on, or barriers to block off an area. Because other objects in the game already serve these purposes, it messes with the player’s expectations. You see an explosive barrel and assume you must need it to blow something up, so you look for something to blow up. After all, if all they wanted it to be used for was as something to jump on, they would have just used a non-exploding box, like they did in the last room. Except no, it really is just a stepping stone in this case. Or you need to roll a giant boulder onto a trap door to activate something, then another time you might need to roll it into the spot behind the trap door, so it will stop a second boulder you’re rolling, and sometimes you need to use it to do one thing, then the other. Adding multiple possibilities for each piece of the puzzle makes the solution far less obvious than games where every object only has one specific purpose. This makes Light Crusader one of the trickier adventure games out there, but also one of the most satisfying.

If this were Zelda, those barrels would be torches and you could just light them and be on your way.

One of the pitfalls of making a game that combines platforming with puzzle solving and action is that if it isn’t designed well, it can be hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t figured out the right solution to the problem, or if you have the right idea but aren’t able to pull it off properly because you’re mistiming a jump or something. This could be especially perilous in a game like Light Crusader, where the puzzle solving is generally less obvious than, say, pulling on every statue in the room or breaking the correct vase to reveal a button. LC handles this pretty well, partly thanks to some well-thought out balance (few areas in the game simultaneously challenge both your skills and your brainpower – the hardest to figure out puzzles generally don’t feature any tricky jumps or timing issues, and vice versa), and partly due to responsive control and good level layouts.

Yes, he’s fleeing in terror. But to be fair, that is a giant spider with purple flame legs.

LC is surprisingly efficient in its design for an action/RPG. There’s only one town to visit, and it’s pretty sparsely populated since the story revolves around trying to figure out why people keep disappearing. Which turns out to not be really much of a mystery seeing as the town has been built over a giant network of monster infested catacombs. City planners really need to stop doing that (see also: Diablo) – not only does it drastically increase “the villagers abducted by monsters” potential, but it’s probably not a great idea from an engineering standpoint. If some water starts getting into those catacombs, they’ll collapse and then the whole town will turn into a sinkhole. That’s a disaster no amount of magic swords is going to save you from. In fact, that should really be the plan the villains in these games are going for – instead of raising some long-lost evil deity with dark magic, they really just need to start digging a tunnel over to the closest body of water. Much easier that way; instead of needing black magic or ancient artifacts or human sacrifices, you just have to go to Home Depot and pick up some shovels and maybe hire a few of those day laborers that are always standing around in the parking lot. That would cost like, maybe $200 bucks.

Availability: Light Crusader hasn’t been included in any retro compilations, but is available as a download title for the Wii. Those of you who don’t have a Wii will have to pick up a Genesis copy, though, and that’s where things get tricky. Let’s see – quality game, not available on two of the three current consoles, came out late in the system’s life, kind of obscure, created by the beloved developer Treasure… this is like a checklist of things that make a game hard to come by. LC probably goes for about $70 online, right?

And it has dragons? Tack another $10 onto the price.

Well, no, actually. Call it some kind of gaming miracle, but copies of Light Crusader are actually inexpensive and not that hard to find. I bought my own personal copy at a flea market for $4, and a recent search of revealed multiple copies selling for less than five bucks. We’re not going to tell you how to spend your money, but c’mon, $5 for one of the Genesis’ Top Ten games? If you don’t already have this game and aren’t willing to pay such a paltry sum to obtain it, you should probably just give your Genesis away to someone who might actually use it.

Jungle Strike

Grade: A
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 10th
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1993
Genre: Helicopter

Jungle Strike is a tough game to talk about. Not because it isn’t awesome or interesting, but because this is a game that opens with terrorist attacks on Washington DC, has you preventing multiple attempts to kill the president, and includes a mission where your enemies attack the White House with nuclear missiles. Those are phrases that once you put them into an article, your chances of being put onto some kind of government watchlist and maybe even receiving a surprise visit from the Secret Service go up dramatically. So let me just make a quick aside to all the government agents who found this page by Googling the things they’re trying to prevent: I’m only talking about a video game – it’s those maniacs over at Electronic Arts who made it that you ought to be looking for. Also, this game came out in 1993, and Clinton is still alive and well almost 20 years later, so I think you can file this one away as successfully prevented. Unless you suspect this game was portraying attacks against the current president, in which case the people who made it are either time travelers or witches, and either way you definitely should be going after them.

Anyway, Jungle Strike is the sequel to 1992’s Desert Strike, a game in which you took control of an Apache helicopter and pretty much single-handedly won the Gulf War. This time, the son of the “Desert Madman” is out for revenge, and he’s teamed up with the infamous South American drug lord, Carlos Ortega. Finally, we can wage war against drugs AND terrorism at the same time! If only we could get some kind of third villain to represent poverty, then we could fight all of America’s wars against general concepts simultaneously. Then again, a game where you fly around and mow down hordes of poor people might not be something a lot of people would run out and buy.

Whatever you say, guy who almost certainly was just of the people working on the game.

And yes, it is safe to call our enemies in this game terrorists, as the game begins with every American’s worst nightmare, and every movie and game designer’s favorite scenario – a surprise attack on Washington DC. You immediately take off from the White House (which is kind of strange, considering the White House isn’t an army base) and head off to stop the Madman’s army from attacking the various monuments around the city. Yes, the president’s life is in danger, and we’ll get to that if there’s time. Don’t forget – we have a back-up president; but there’s only one Jefferson Memorial.

It’s interesting to note that the terrorist’s attack vehicles of choice are green station wagons, RVs, and freaking surface to air missile launchers. It’s like they couldn’t decide whether to go with weapons that were easy to sneak into the capital, or ones that might actually be effective in a fight, and settled for kind of a self-defeating mix of the two. At some point as they were entering DC, towing their SAM launchers in little trailers behind their fleet of identical Chevy Caprice wagons, one of them should have looked around and thought “Hey, this probably isn’t going to work.”

Besides attacking various tourist destinations around the city, the terrorists also attempt to assault the president’s motorcade, since apparently nobody bothers to check out the route ahead of him, or you know, tell him to turn around and stay the fuck out of the city that’s under attack. Jeez guys, do you make him drive his own limo, too? Anyway, it’s up to you to destroy any of the terrorists attacking the motorcade. Considering that this mission involves shooting missiles at vehicles that are driving alongside the president’s limo, it goes a lot better if you chose the co-pilot who was an accurate shot over one with good winch skills.

C’mon, man. That’s not even close.

One of the trademarks of the Strike series is blowing up background buildings to uncover hidden supplies. The southern part of DC is a suburban area with several houses including one that you can blow up to reveal an ammo crate being defended by a guy with a gun. Is he one of the terrorists, or just a paranoid conspiracy theorist who had been hoarding weapons in his basement for the day the government sends their secret helicopters after him? Because if it’s the latter, it turns out he was actually pretty justified in those beliefs, which must make the attack on his house one of the most terrifying “I told you so” moments in his life.

With Washington DC secured, it’s on to mission two. This is known to Strike aficionados (ie – me) as the “goddamn hovercraft level”, and has you landing your helicopter and using a hovercraft to… well, die a lot, mostly. Also, to recover some stolen plutonium before it gets turned into nuclear weapons. But mostly dying.

It’s not even that the hovercraft is a particularly weak vehicle. It’s just that it must be backed into anything you want to pick up at just the right angle, and the slightest wrong move will cause the object in question to explode.This makes it very difficult to refuel or get more ammunition. It is also not, perhaps, the ideal vehicle for recovering crates of stolen plutonium.

Look at the size of that fucking shark! Let’s just use the winch to airlift it, then drop it on the enemy camp and call it a day.

Actually, you know what? hovercrafts are stupid. Here’s a password to skip to the 3rd mission: 9V6CR9WNMCZ

Things pick up in the next mission, in which we attack the madman’s training camps. And despite being able to buy a small army and nuclear materials, the budget for training camps apparently wasn’t quite enough to buy anything more than a handful of haphazardly placed tents that are easily destroyed. Perhaps the drug lord is just trying to get the new recruits prepared for the eventuality of a helicopter coming along and blowing up all their shit. Because that seems to be an inevitability for these guys. There are also some nuclear reactors here which need to be recovered. For obvious reasons, it is extremely important that you do not destroy them. Fortunately, they are surprisingly resilient to having the warehouses they are stored in blown up around them.

These reactors will later be used to convert the souls of the recently deceased in Mako energy.

The fourth mission has you going on a daring night raid to rescue kidnapped nuclear scientists. At this point, with the nuclear materials recovered, you’d probably think that the threat is neutralized and you could just ransom the hostages. And sure, if you were some kind of socialist, I guess that could work. But the US does not negotiate with terrorists. No, the US comes in the middle of the night and takes its scientists back by force while risking as many lives as possible. And we do it without relying on technological crutches such as radar or spotlights. The explosions of our missiles and the burning wreckage of our foes are all we need to light up the night sky. (Note: that actually is about the only way to see anything on this level).

So has anyone else noticed that in this game about flying an attack chopper over the jungles of South America, the only level that has actually taken place in the jungle so far was a night time mission where you couldn’t actually see if it was the jungle or not? Well, the fifth stage takes place in a city. Oh, and you drive a motorcycle for a while. Jungle Strike!

Anyway, the UN has arrived on the scene with supplies and relief for the villagers. Unfortunately the drug lord has hidden all the citizens away in nearby missions. What a monster – hiding his own people away in safe places in the wake of an oncoming invasion force and a rampaging attack helicopter! I’m sure the civilians will be greatly relieved when you blow up the buildings they’re hiding in with Hellfire missiles and then kidnap, err… airlift the survivors to a heavily guarded UN security compound. Oh, and be sure to methodically level their homes and any other buildings in town, too – there might be some valuable supplies tucked away in some of the buildings. No, I have absolutely no idea why these people hate America. Probably because of the drugs.

Feel free to blow up some of those U.N. supply crates just to show everyone who’s boss.

The final part of this mission involves a high-risk raid to recover some nuclear detonators, because it’s clearly not enough just to simply leave the enemy without nuclear reactors, or plutonium, or scientists. Better to risk your life and the rest of the campaign to recover some impotent detonators.

Now it’s time to attack Carlos Ortega in his, uh… jungle snow fortress? Because apparently in addition to being the head of an international narcotics cartel, he’s also the boss from an 8-bit platformer game. Anyway, this mission is more of the same old stuff – blow up weapons systems, knock out some radar sites, take down a heavily fortified bunker.

You know, the old routine.

The most noteworthy thing on this level is the rescue of missing co-pilot Wild Bill, who is the game’s best gunner, and immediately takes over co-pilot duties mid-mission to upgrade to your capabilities. Which I’m sure that must have involved an awkward conversation with your previous co-pilot: “Hey, Annihilator, look you’ve done great and all, but now that we have a gunner here who can tell the difference between a tank and the president’s limo, um… well, I’m just gonna drop you off at the POW camp the next time we drop off the prisoners we captured. Make sure you tell the guards you’re on our side, or things might get a little ugly.”

Mission seven has you taking control of the F-117 Stealth Fighter, because hey, that controls pretty much like a helicopter, right? Never mind that each craft is from an entirely separate branch of the military, the important thing here is infinite fuel! And infinite missiles, which is important, because the fighter moves so fast that it’s near impossible to hit anything on the first try. Also, you crash any time you bump into something, which is probably another argument against flying a radar-invisible aircraft a couple hundred feet off the ground at high speeds. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the destructive power to level the entire Amazon basin, rainforests and ancient Mayan temples be damned.

“Sir, why are we flying the stealth fighter so close to the ground?”

“So that they can’t pick us up on their… SONOFABITCH WHY DID WE EVEN BOTHER GETTING A STEALTH PLANE?”

With that out of the way, it’s time to capture the Desert Madman and the Evil Drug Lord. Ortega goes into hiding in his mountain villa, while the madman retreats to his fortified bunker which, conveniently, is maybe a mile away. Rather than defend either of these fortresses with tanks or the newly introduced mobile SAM launchers (nasty, heavily armored missile launchers that are maybe the first enemies in the series truly capable of going head-to-head with you), the drug lord relies on a couple of guys in a pickup truck, while the madman defends himself with the same anti-aircraft turrets that you’ve been blowing up all game. The SAM launchers are instead used to guard some hidden weapon sites, a task their particularly ill-suited for, due to their complete inability to distinguish between an attack helicopter and the thing they’re supposed to be defending from attack helicopters. This goes about as well as you would expect, and it isn’t long before you’re heading back to the States to put these two on trial.

Where, ironically, they’ll sent to a prison more or less exactly like this bunker.

The final mission of the game begins with yet another attack on Washington DC because, I mean, you’re not going to go through the trouble of making a painstakingly sort-of accurate game version of nation’s capital and then only use that level once, are you? Of course not. Hell, Fallout 3 set their entire game there, and that game barely even had helicopters in it.

Anyway, the remnants of the Drug Lord’s and Desert Madman’s combined forces launch a combined attack on DC, because that’s what loosely allied mercenary armies usually do after their criminal warlord leaders get captured, right? Coordinated full frontal assaults on the capitals of foreign nations? As opposed to say, internal power struggles for new leadership, running off and counting their money, or going into hiding? Their attack allows both the madman and drug lord to escape, with the latter hijacking a bus and the former stealing a fuel truck. Now, you probably don’t need me to explain why a big, slow truck full of an explosive liquid might not be the optimal choice for fleeing from an attack helicopter. Still it’s worth pointing out that in addition to the obvious drawbacks, the tanker truck also has the disadvantage of being something we’ve spent the whole game blowing up as a means to get more fuel. Tip #1 for escaping pursuit is not to disguise yourself as something your enemy would attack anyway.

The very last part of this mission has you trying to prevent 4 semi trucks carrying the madman’s nuclear missiles from crashing into the White House. I’m assuming that since we’ve already recovered the plutonium, nuclear reactors, detonators, and scientists in previous missions, these are “nuclear missiles” in the sense that they are missiles that could have been fitted with nuclear warheads if the terrorists still had any. This would also explain why it’s perfectly safe to blow up the trucks. Still, having four trucks crash into the White House probably wouldn’t be good anyway, so if nothing else, this will save a lot of money on repairs.

Though considering how heavily armored they are, you’ll probably end up firing $1 billion worth of missiles to prevent a couple million dollars worth of damage.

Availability: Jungle Strike was a huge seller (its predecessor, Desert Strike, was actually the best selling game in the history of EA for a while), so finding a copy shouldn’t be too hard, and it’s not crazy to think you could get it for $5 or less. There was also a SNES version that isn’t significantly different, so that route is available, too. Unfortunately, those of you who only have recent systems are out of luck. Like many classic Electronic Arts titles, the series has not found its way into any retro collections, and isn’t available for download. I’ve never been able to say for sure, but I suspect the reason for this EA may have had some kind of unique publishing agreements with its developers, and didn’t retain the rights to the games they released. That’s only a theory, though. It could be that EA just has a grudge against me personally.