The "crosshair shooter". A game genre that never became wildly popular or commonplace... but still produced some very memorable arcade games. Empire City 1931 probably pioneered the format, but it never really took off until Cabal (and it's pseudo-sequel, Blood Brothers). Other companies like Seibu and Taito followed suit with games such as Dynamite Duke and Rambo III. Even the mighty Neo-Geo's first official game ended up being NAM-1975, a crosshair shooter that still stands the test of time today (although it's known more commonly as "that game with the impossible last boss that you're not allowed to continue on". Come on, it's not THAT hard, guys!). Then the genre ultimately faded away, as arcades became dominated by fighters, gun games, and racing games (and the occasional "regular" shoot-em-up). Sure, Wild Guns on the SNES was pretty awesome, but that was it. The genre disappeared without ever getting an "official" moniker, and although you can always play a gun game on a console with a controller and pretend it's a crosshair shooter, it's just not the same.
At any rate, I've always tended to enjoy the genre (I'm one of maybe 6 people who liked the NES version of The Punisher), so I was kinda surprised that I'd never heard of Riot up until it appeared in MAME one day. But then again, it was made by NMK, and none of their games ever really went on to become mega-hits... I mean, who here has fond memories of playing Hacha Mecha Fighter or Saboten Bombers at their local arcade? Yeah, exactly. Maybe they were more popular in Japan, I don't know. But hey, just because Riot seemed to be extremely obscure doesn't mean it's bad, right? Right...? Well, let's find out.
In the attract mode's introduction, an enemy helicopter fires upon the game's protagonist. The guy isn't even fazed by the fact that the chopper's gunfire was just inches away from mowing his ass down though, instead he looks rather relaxed about the whole matter. Presumably, he then gets pissed that someone would dare snap him out of his daydream, so he takes out his gun and blows the helicopter out of the sky. We're then treated to the title screen seen at the top of the page, where our hero has somehow lost his shirt and now there are TWO helicopters. Oh shit! At this point I was expecting the game to be your standard military fare where it's just one guy or two against an entire army, a la Cabal or NAM-1975. But no, things get just a tad weirder than that (which is a good thing, because obviously I wouldn't have anything to write about otherwise).
Before that though, I'd like to address the subject of the player character (and his palette-swapped 2P twin). Since the dude is never addressed by name and I can't find jack shit about anything else regarding the game, I had no idea what to call him. It wasn't until later that I made a bizarre observation - in a way he kind of resembles the "hero" of the MST3K classic, Space Mutiny.
Well, perhaps the resemblance isn't quite separated-at-birth material, they don't have too much in common other than both being blonde lunkheads wearing tanktops. But this gives me the perfect excuse to make geeky MST3K references by using the myriad of nicknames that he was assigned during the film, so from now on he's Big McLargeHuge! Or Thick McRunfast. Or Slab Squatthrust. Or Bob Johnson... no, wait. (and for those of you who haven't been "blessed" enough to watch the fine piece of cinema that is Space Mutiny, every nickname is in italics so there will hopefully be less confusion. Wait, what was this review supposed to be about? Something called Riot, right? Okay then, on with the game...)
Special weapons and sorcery. Um, sure. It's never actually explained what the "Magic Tigers" were planning to do with their special weapons and sorcery though. But since this is a video game, let's just assume that they're either going to take over the world/universe or they've kidnapped a princess/girlfriend/Ronald Reagan. Therefore, you can't let them get away!
So begins Round 1. Bad guys start appearing in the background, move the crosshair to where they are on the screen and fire to kill them. Pretty standard stuff. But oooh, there's a twist! There's a second fire button that you must use to dispatch enemies that are on the OTHER SIDE of the character, and appear right in front of the screen. This is a really neat idea that I don't believe was ever used again in a game of this type, as it gives you a feeling of truly being surrounded by enemies, instead of just picking them off in the background as if you were at a carnival shooting range. But by the same token, being easily surrounded like that also means a better chance of unfair cheap hits. Thankfully, this is not always the case because as you can see in that second screenshot, there are many spots in each level where you can hide behind parts of the background, like those sandbags there. Obviously, depending on where barriers like that are placed, you're only protected from shots coming from either the background or the foreground. But it provides a nice safe spot to let you focus on one set of enemies for the times you are surrounded... until of course you have to fight guys that like lobbing grenades or shooting rockets at whereever you are on the screen, and those projectiles have a nasty little habit of going up and over whatever you're hiding behind. No turtling for you!
Oh yeah, I also must call attention to this part of the first level:
Fucked up, huh? Looks like this is an alternate universe where Clarence Boddicker killed Robocop with that... large spikey thing. No explanation is given for this and you don't see any Robo-ripoffs in any of the following levels, so I'm not really sure what this means. Nonetheless, it's a very odd moment.
By the way, you also have a roll button. Also pretty standard stuff, except there's one glaring problem with it - you're not invincible during the roll. In games like Cabal, Blood Brothers, or NAM-1975, the roll makes you completely impervious to damage. Sure in those games it makes no sense that an explosion that would otherwise kill you, will leave you unfazed if you do a simple somersault through it, but... hey, it's a video game, these things don't have to make sense. On the plus side, you do have a lifebar, so one hit won't kill you instantly like it would in the aforementioned games. The roll does still have its uses though, as it moves you along faster than walking normally, and you can fire during a roll as well. So it's not all bad, but it'd still be nice if Mr. Roll Fizzlebeef here could have a 100% reliable method of avoiding attacks. Oh well.
Back to the game itself, here's one of my favorite moments. Brick Hardmeat makes the mistake of trying to walk across a platform comprised of floating rocks. Soon after they give way and he's sent tumbling down a ramp and then falls down even further about 50 feet or so, HEAD-FIRST. As if a head-first plummet wasn't bad enough, his head collides with four tree branches along the way too. You'd think that would be enough to kill the guy, but he pretty much just shrugs it off and no damage is done to the lifebar. And then it's back to killing everything that gets in your way...
...until you reach the edge of this waterfall, where a giant fan (?!?) comes out of fucking nowhere. What happens next isn't much of a surprise, the fan blows Fridge Largemeat off the waterfall, sending him falling down head-first again... and again he collides with exactly four tree branches along the way. At this point I'm really feeling sorry for the guy, the game's barely just begun and he's been dropped into a total of eight tree branches. Is stopping the Magic Tigers really worth all this head trauma?
The drop from the waterfall deposits you in an area with retracting spiked walls and Temple of Doom rejects with swords. The swordsmen can be pretty irritating since hiding behind some sandbags obviously won't make you invincible to a sword in the face. Continuing along this path will bring you to the first boss, who looks like a cross between Yoda and a goblin.. and it's here where things really get interesting.
Upon reaching this goblin you're transported into the clouds for no apparent reason... must be an act of sorcery and stuff. All the boss battles are like this, you're always instantly removed from the "regular" level and fighting the boss in a surreal new environment. Anyway, the Yoda Goblin then proceeds to fly around a lot and occasionally shoot a fireball (or maybe it's a comet) where you're standing, meanwhile he's backed up by a bunch of slow-moving sand creatures that slowly lumber forward to attack you. Or maybe they're made out of rocks, I honestly can't tell and there's really no logical explanation for what's going on at this point. But obviously since this is just the first boss it shouldn't be much of a challenge anyway, so let's move on to Round 2.
Strange magic indeed. Round 2 begins on some railway tracks, another Temple of Doom-inspired ripoff? By the way, that huge bullet in the foreground contains power-up items like new weaponry, life-ups, or extra lives. Yes, you can totally get a new gun from a huge bullet that is desperately trying to float away into the sky. At this point it's really best not to think too hard about these things.
Eventually the tracks end, and... oh fuck, more floating rocks. Here we go again! But luckily this time it's just a free fall onto a moving train. No tree branches in the way this time, not that it would have really mattered if he ran into a few more again at this point. Anyway, plenty of danger lurks on the train ride in the form of helicopters, jeeps, grenade-throwing assholes, and a gorilla.
Yeah, a gorilla. It's not your average run-of-the-mill gorilla either, it's a HUGE fucking gorilla wearing a gay little vest and gloves. It's unknown as to why the Magic Tigers are recruiting queer gorillas to fight for them, because they don't do a very good job. All he does is jump back and forth, stopping to punch you should you be standing directly in front of him. He does however take approximately eight billion shots to kill though, so have fun with that. Another question - the steel bars seem to imply that he was being carried away somewhere against his will, but that theory doesn't really hold up when there's no door on the right side. I'm sure he was being kept in that little train car through sorcery and strange magic. Anyway, after the gorilla falls on his ass you'll have to kill a few dozen more enemies before reaching the boss.
Stroll into this dude's office and you get whisked away into outer space. Yup. First you were in the sky, now you're in space... how can you possibly top that? This boss is a little disappointing though because the guy sitting in the chair doesn't transform into a monster or anything, although I'm assuming those other guys have become the fucked-up bat/bird hybrid things pestering you during this battle. All the leader does here is sit on his ass in a protective bubble and float around the screen, occasionally coming out of it to fire at you. Keep plugging away at this lazy fucker every time his bubble shield goes down, and eventually you're treated to this:
Every time a boss is killed, you're transported back to Earth, but with the boss and whatever minions he had, dead upon arrival. It's actually a pretty stylish effect in my opinion.
Brilliant deduction there, Dirk Hardpec. By the way, that "Under Ground Inn - Coffin Shop" sign ends up scrolling in the background a couple thousand times or so during the course of Round 2. Of course, it scrolls by so fast that you can't really read it in motion, but still. Advertising a coffin shop is silly enough to be slightly humorous, but let's not beat it into the ground guys.
Round 3 isn't particularly noteworthy outside of that killer wrecking ball, so let's skip ahead to the boss.
Army general dude floats into the air and turns into a wolf. Makes perfect sense to me! The venue you get taken to this time is a bit disappointing though... I mean, a field compared to outer space? Yawn. Anyway, this boss's attack method is to stretch his neck out to hit you. I'd like to think that it's an homage to Longcat, but... this game came out first. Never mind. Meanwhile, "regular" wolves run around to attack, but they can easily be shot down before they reach you. As you can see, the wolves that appear in the foreground meet a rather grisly demise when you shoot them too.
Coolest boss "finish" in the game right there. Of course, those blue wolf-things weren't there when the battle originally started, but whatever.