Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bloody Wolf

Data East / NEC

Amidst comparisons to Contra, Last Alert, and the like, Bloody Wolf has seen its essence grow increasingly obscured over the years. Stone-faced scribes have shrouded the game’s true nature with flimflam-filled articles detailing the “solid action” and “cool graphics” that it flaunts. We must assume that these apocryphal assessments resulted either out of ignorance or an unwillingness to accept the adventure for what it is--which, of course, is an examination of the romances of chivalry.

Believe it. Bloody Wolf, an apparent overhead shooting game, pays homage to heroes who cherished only their reputations for magnanimity over their talent with weaponry. Admonishing those who tread down dishonorable paths, slaying giants in the names of the damsels they adore, and generally transforming wrongs into rights were the duties of these chivalrous warriors, all of which they went about while unleashing the most noble and eloquent of speeches, never to be forgotten by those who were privy to their beautiful melodies.

Select your knight errant from two soldiers reminiscent of Rambo. The fellow who goes unchosen will not be left out of this history entirely--he will merely be relegated to the role of squire. Our brave knight won’t quest for the sake of a lady--rather, the apple of his eye will be the beloved president of our country. He'll come equipped with the requisite stilted lines of dialogue, however, the delivering of which he undoubtedly practiced for hours in front of a mirror before nobly setting off on his mission.

Have you ever had the honor of hearing such mellifluous brilliance as the poetry our hero delivers upon acquiring a healing item?


Calm your racing heart and witness the glory that is our knight errant’s assessment of the situation at hand:


Well, at least we know what he means. Bless the oaf’s heart; he's trying.

Perhaps we’d do better to take a listen to our hero’s eloquence while he's in the midst of battle, when he feels at home and in his element. Perhaps the perfect instance would be when he encounters his knife-wielding rival in a dense, foreboding jungle:


Our Hero: A-HA.

Knife Guy: WOWWWWW...

Noble intentions aside, this could be very well be the goofiest, most laughable dialogue to be witnessed in a game since the awful exchanges that took place in Captain America and the Avengers. Bloody Wolf doesn’t stop there, though; while paying homage to crap, why not give a nod to the infamous Sword of Sodan? One grateful young man does just that when he grants your knight errant a little advice as a reward for his chivalrous deeds:


Thank you, sir. Bridges are easy to miss, after all, when one isn’t WATCHING OUT for them--even if one is a knight errant.

Goofiness isn't confined to the charming dialogue; there are plenty of chuckles to be had when action is actually taking place. Let’s say that you nail an advancing soldier with a machine-gun shot right to the stomach--watch as blood pours out of his abdomen and he writhes in pain. Pretty cool, eh? Now, let’s say that you decide to annihilate your next foe with the toss of a grenade. Watch as your enemy rises up into the air, spinning all the while, and goes flying off the screen--perhaps the goofiest darn death sequence since similar misadventures took place in Last Battle.

And now we’re arriving at the essence of Bloody Wolf. Sure, it’s an intense study of chivalry and the heroes who subscribed to those ideals. Even more importantly, though, it represents the unholy alliance of Last Alert and a multitude of the silliest kitsch classics ever released.

Well, if you’re going to get any enjoyment out of this adventure, you’d best be of the ilk that finds amusement in such classics, as Bloody Wolf struggles a bit with its fundamentals. Gameplay-wise, it doesn't fare well in comparison with the similar (and much deeper) Last Alert. It lacks LA's varied mission objectives; instead, it delivers fairly straightforward run-and-kill stuff along with occasional hostage-rescue missions. Its control scheme is rather cumbersome (you can make use of two different weapons at once, but the second is triggered via the Run button) and doesn't feel as refined as LA's (forget about strafing). And your knight errant's adventure comes to an end much more quickly than Guy Kazama's does.

BW's cast of enemies also fails to impress; these certainly are not the kinds of villains that an aspiring knight errant could make history doing battle with. There is an unlimited quantity of dull-witted soldiers to destroy, most of whom appear in generic green garb and offer so little in the way of challenge that you might as well be dueling with windmills. These cretins are often accompanied by troops of red and blue varieties--the red fellas are a bit quicker than the greens, while the blue guys make use of spread guns. Prepare to run into these three types of adversaries quite often. Sure, to break up the monotony, you’ll be allowed to battle “armored” soldiers who can be defeated only if you attack them with certain types of weapons, but this remains a crew that falls far short of being exemplary.

Nonetheless, the situations you’re thrust into are occasionally interesting. Scaling the side of a mountain while dodging bullets is pretty enjoyable, even if you’re being shot at by those dull green folks (who temporarily assume the guises of paratroopers). River rafting while annihilating soldiers who launch missile attacks from the bank and dodging lunatics who lunge towards you in kamikaze fashion can be an engaging experience, as can zipping through an enemy base on a motorcycle, running over your enemies as you go.

Bloody Wolf adorns its hit-or-miss gameplay with colorful visuals and large, impressive sprites. Unfortunately, the characters seem to be a little too huge for their own good, as the screen often gets murdered by slowdown and flicker (which is particularly irritating when you consider that there isn’t all that much actual action going on). The game’s audio travels down a similar path: while the tunes are all quite melodic and should make for great listening, they're way too tinny and percussive in their execution. It’s the type of cacophony that usually only the horrible Genesis sound chip is capable of producing. The intense boss tune is the one track can be heard repeatedly without becoming annoying (which is a very good thing, as you’ll undoubtedly have to face a few of the ruffians more than once before you'll be able to annihilate them).

Speaking of the boss encounters, you’ll spar with helicopters, tanks, and other assorted giants as you attempt to prove your valor.

The battle with the “Knife Guy” alluded to above is interesting in that you and he are limited to stabbing and parrying with handheld weapons--which makes no sense, as you’ll have plenty in the way of guns and ammo by the time you reach that point, but it does make for a great fight. Also interesting is the showdown with the aptly named “Boss,” which takes place as you’re on the verge of rescuing the president. Somehow, this fellow uses a boomerang to nab all your weapons except for a small blade.

He won’t play fair like the Knife Guy does, however; instead, he’ll hurl a plethora of those lethal projectiles about the room as he fires away at you with his cannon.

Defeat him and you’ll have the privilege of witnessing one of the goofiest sequences in action-gaming history. With the president by your side, you’ll have to make a mad dash past dozens of enemy troops to reach the point where your rescue ‘copter is waiting. So off you go, wary but confident, when you suddenly remember that you still can only make use of your knife. As you hack and slash your way through fools who somehow can’t seem to kill you even with all their fancy spread guns and grenades, the president waddles along behind you, hands still bound (you’d think that while your knight is making so much use of his knife, he’d bother to cut the president loose). Not only will all those villains most likely fail in their attempts to stop you, but not one of them will actually think to grab the helpless president as he huffs and puffs his way to freedom.

Well, that sure is bad, but the worst is yet to come.

You see, when you finally do reach the helicopter, a soldier jumps out and tells you that there is room on board for only one more passenger.

For crying out loud, people, squeeze in! Have the president sit on someone’s lap! Do something so that everyone can go home safe and sound.

But no, it wouldn’t be proper for a knight errant to force his president to take a trip in discomfort. So the hero stays behind and gets captured by the enemy troops, who finally manage to catch up to him.

Here’s where the fellow whom you didn’t choose to play as enters the picture. As Sancho Panza would for Don Quixote, your squire comes running to the rescue. For most of what remains of the adventure, you’ll play as the “other fellow,” who raids the enemy headquarters in an effort to rescue our beloved knight errant. You’ll reassume your role as the true hero when the time comes for the final battle--and what an incredible battle it is!

Boss and his boomerangs show up for another duel, but this time, the fiend exhibits some newly learned “holographic powers.'' You know the deal: avoid the fakes and hit the "real one.” But it’s tough; Boss is one speedy villain, and he’s powerful enough to kill you before you even realize what it is you’re supposed to be doing.

Being a poor man’s Last Alert is nothing to be ashamed of. But even when considering Bloody Wolf’s own distinct merits, I feel that it has been overrated in the past. This is not a great game. Still, you’ll complete the adventure with a feeling of accomplishment and a smile on your face (as the ending sequence actually contains a good dose of effective intentional humor). Certainly, most knights errant would be content to retire in such a state.

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