Victory Road Review—The Road to Boredom
Victory Road is the sequel to the classic arcade game Ikari Warriors, which has already been released as a Mini a few months ago. The original Ikari Warriors was a vertically scrolling shooter (or run & gun) where you controlled a Rambo-esque figure navigating through a jungle full of enemies, trying to rescue a giant Teddy Roosevelt, the only bit of strangeness in an otherwise fairly conventional setting.
The game is fairly simple to play. You move in four directions (using the D-pad or analog nub), can aim in eight (using two buttons to rotate through each direction), and fire your carried weapon or throw grenades in that direction by tapping buttons (X or O). Victory Road basically plays the same as Ikari Warriors, but the strangeness is present right from the start, not just at the end.
The two characters from Ikari Warriors have been transported to a strange, otherworldly dimension, one that seems a lot like the settings of Mortal Kombat (which came several years later). They are confronted by what looks like the boss from the earlier arcade game Sinistar—basically a giant floating head that taunts them with digitized speech. Only instead of sounding like a robot, it sounds a lot like Robert Patrick (from Terminator 2, The X-Files, and his best work, Fire in the Sky). After delivering a challenge, enemies appear and you must fight your way through them, progressing forward, as always in these types of games.
The playing field in the original Ikari Warriors was essentially a great long jungle battlefield, complete with fortifications, gun emplacements, tanks, and so forth. In Victory Road, though, the playing field is a desolate island in a void and is mostly just a lot of dull yellow, sort of like driving through Kansas, with all its cornfields. Sometimes the colors change, but the drabness always remains.
The opponents are also quite different, reminding me a lot of 1000 Tiny Claws; mostly, you fight scorpions and spiders and the occasional ogre, while flying bats or harpies or something fly down at you. Most of these attacks come in formations or waves, like in other types of shooters but not usually found in run & gun games. These are all as drab as the terrain itself.
Along the way, you can get power-ups. These basically are a flamethrower (which you start with, actually, then lose when you die) and a sword that I think protects you from enemies that run into it. I think that’s what it does. Ikari Warriors would let you get into a tank, while this has a suit of armor you can climb into. Essentially it protects you for a little while, like the tank did, but doesn’t give you a cannon to fire.
The biggest difference is the boss fights. They occur frequently in Victory Road. As you move forward, every so often a dimensional portal opens up in the ground, and you get sucked through it and into a boss fight. You beat it, you return to where you were. There are also boss fights on occasion without going through that wormhole.
These boss fights seem to be somewhat randomized; when you play it again, which boss you fight can change. Sometimes you fight the floating head that challenged you; sometimes it’s a flying insect that looks like a giant green fly; other times it’s a centipede-like monster. It’s never exactly clear just how to win these fights. Sometimes they seem to end almost immediately, but sometimes they take longer—on one occasion, I spent over a half hour trying to kill one. That was not fun.
What’s worse is that these boss encounters happen a lot. A whole lot. It seems like you only move a screen or so before the next portal opens up, and boom, you’re back fighting against one. This hurts Victory Road because, for one, the boss fights just aren’t compelling. But also, they remove the exploration factor. While it’s not huge in Ikari Warriors, part of what I found to be fun about it was finding out what was coming next on the battleground.
The bosses on the regular playing field aren’t as common and are more fun to fight. They seem to be the same every time you play (that is, their locations are fixed), and while I’m not exactly sure how to beat these, either (I guess grenades are the key to boss fights), they never aggravated me as the portal bosses do.
G1M2 provides the usual host of options for their conversions, like changing the number of lives, changing the difficulty, stretching the graphics, being able to alter the controls (very useful for games like this). They also added a “Cheat Mode,” but I have no idea what it actually does. But the save state function lets you preserve your progress in the game, so between that and the game letting you continue, you really don’t need to cheat. Like in Ikari Warriors, there are occasionally slight pauses in the gameplay, at least on the PSP.
While the graphics are better than in Ikari Warriors, they are also drabber. Fighting though a lush jungle river delta looked much better than desolate sky-islands. The enemies are also more detailed in Ikari Warriors—bugs just don’t make very interesting opponents. And besides, they’re a common nuisance in real life, so I really don’t want to have to fend them off in virtuality as well.
The sound effects aren’t really noticeable, except, of course, for the speech, which is extremely cheesy. I’ve always hated that word as a descriptor for non-dairy products, but there really isn’t a more appropriate one.
I’ve been a big fan of these types of games since I was a kid playing Front Line on my Colecovision. I liked the original Ikari Warriors, but Victory Road just left me cold, or worse, bored. The difficulty is increased over an already difficult game (designed to keep players feeding the machine quarters), and the constant boss battles get old quick. The graphics are dull, and while the digitized speech is amusing at first, it gets old quick, too. It’s just not fun to play.
Victory Road isn’t one of those sequels that make you wonder what they were thinking (well, maybe a little), but it is just one that seems like they missed the point. If you enjoyed Ikari Warriors and want a game that is similar but somewhat improved, get Guerrilla War instead. Its existence seems to indicate that SNK realized they went astray with their Ikari sequels.