Jungle Strike

The first sequel to the smash hit Desert Strike (itself a runaway success and a shameless cash in by EA on the Gulf War), Jungle Strike made its way to consoles in 1993 and quickly wowed gamers by the number of enhancements made to the original as well as providing a much more satisfactory and intense experience proving that there was a lot of life left in isometric 3D games.

Now the plot is fairly simple. A drug lord in South America teams up with the son of the evil Dictator from the first game seeking revenge on the United States for perceived crimes against them both. One has money, the other has technical expertise and so they plan a wild scheme by which to exact their pound of flesh, beginning with a terrorist attack on Washington DC.

EA chose wisely by making the first level based in Washington DC – not only does the game set itself apart from the original but the sheer number of landmarks and familiar sights that can be seen do bring a depth of realism home to the player. The helicopter used for the missions takes off from the White House front lawn and quickly you’re flying around the Lincoln Memorial, the IRS, the Smithsonian and If you’re feeling particularly inclined, you can blow them all up (granted it’s immediate Game Over but still!).

Unlike the original game where it was mostly a case of kill the bad guys and occasionally rescue the heroes, the sub-missions have a little more diversity embedded into them as you work to foil the plans of the evil pair. And most importantly – the killer feature in Jungle Strike – you get to use different vehicles in the game. Mission 2 is set over a series of islands and you exchange the helicopter for an experimental hovercraft. This hovercraft drops mines as its main weapon rather than shoot missiles requiring the player to adapt tactics to suit this abrupt change. Later on in the game, there are also motorcycles to scoot around on and a mighty Stealth Plane which can be a bugger to control but comes with infinite weapons…

Another change is that of the co-pilot. You have a choice of initial co-pilots – those who shoot faster, are more accurate with weapons, with the winch and a hybrid of the three. As the game progresses, you get the opportunity to rescue better co-pilots who go missing during the game thus providing something of an “upgrade” to initial stats – something needed towards the later stages of the game.

So why is this in my top ten games? Because it’s one of the best shooters ever released for consoles. And it took inspiration from some of the great early video games like Choplifter and Xaxxon and made the best use of 16 bit hardware delivering an experience that was hard to put down but rewarded the player for time and patience. True, the game only has one difficulty level but the learning curve is sufficient to keep the player coming back for more. And once the game has been completed, it won’t be long before one returns to replay a favourite mission thanks to the password system which allows them to jump in at the start of any part.

The other good thing about the title was the smooth flying that the helicopter was capable of making. Although not an especially high-graphic title, similar games of that era were quite jerky and non-fluid. The controls can be configured to be more jerky if that’s what is preferred or with inertia piled on full. This makes for a more intuitive interface and some crazy-ass flying possible.

Curiously, the lack of a game soundtrack during the game somehow suits this title like the original. Given the inter-mission noise, one would probably be correct for assuming that the programmers would have whacked on some sort of rockabilly track given the predilection for “cowboy” references in the game.

Desert Strike was just too short but a great game in its own right. Urban Strike is when the series began to fall apart as the series became generic rather than innovative and the new programming team just weren’t of the same standard as the previous one. Soviet Strike released on the 32-bit consoles and showed promise of reviving the series but Nuclear Strike’s lack of popularity despite a few good reviews sealed the fate of the series and EA pulled the plug.

It’s one title that’s missing from the Virtual Console line-up and one which gamers would pay through the nose for, I think.