Love them or loathe them, it is hard to ignore the fact that this generation’s go-to game has been the First Person Shooter (FPS). They are everywhere, from great additions to the genre like Halo 3, Killzone 2, and Valve’s Left 4 Dead, to sub-par efforts such as Haze and Red Steel, we have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of games in the genre over the past half-decade.
However, things were not always this way. There was a time when the genre was not whored quite so liberally, when getting your hands on a decent version of Doom meant having a relatively beefy budget to splash out on a PC, or later a PSX. This was a time when the genre was in its infancy and every release brought something new to the table. The Game Boy Advance was able to mix the budding infatuation with FPS‘s we see today, with the old school titles released in day’s gone by.
Duke Nukem Advance
Ok, let’s start off with one that really pissed me off. Duke Nukem Advance is a phoney. I’m sorry but it is. It seemed to garner good reviews at the time, but I didn’t like it from the off. As far as I was concerned, the whole point of these old school FPSes being released on GBA was to let you play some of the greatest and most iconic games ever made whilst on the bus, on the move, or (fittingly in Duke’s case), on the toilet.
Duke Nukem Advance didn’t even give me the original game (Duke Nukem 3D). No, I was palmed off with some alternate story, involving Duke travelling from Area 51 to Egypt doing what he does best…. taking orders? Yeah that’s right, Duke seems to be a shadow of the man he was in Duke Nukem 3D; he quietly takes orders and does the bidding of his General to rid the earth of alien scum.
Now forgive me if I’m mistaken here, but I’m pretty sure the main reason Duke was so pissed off in his PC and N64 outings was because some “alien b*st*rds” shot down his “ride” and began kidnapping women. Inbetween shooting alien-pig-cop hybrids and saving the Earth, Duke was watching pornography, paying topless dancers to show their assets and, in some cases quite literally, stepping on anyone who got in his way. It was his attitude and humour as much as the gameplay that made Duke an icon of the genre and was crucial for the game’s popularity.
The limitations of GBA meant that speech was reined back a little, with the majority of dialogue being text based. This is of course completely understandable and something that has to be sacrificed in order for the game to work on the system but what I don’t understand was the generic nature of the writing in this game. Duke was one boring guy!
Maybe it’s because he was on a Nintendo handheld, maybe it was lazy writing. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Duke was lifeless on this particular outing, and seeing as his over the top macho cheese personality is one of the main draws of the franchise, his tame efforts here dampen the experience even more. Maybe I’m being too harsh on this port. The gameplay itself wasn’t exactly bad, technically it was quite impressive, and when released Duke Nukem Advance was considered one of the best FPSes, if not best of any genre, on GBA. So why the disappointment?
I suppose it’s because the game didn’t deliver what I had hoped. Portable Duke Nukem 3D is what I wanted, in all his potty mouthed, unfeasibly sexist and gory original form. This may be an unreasonable request from a handheld only slightly more powerful than a SNES but if the compromise was a subdued Duke, with a diluted personality, constantly taking orders from someone I don’t care about then it begs the question (for me at least): why bother in the first place?
Now this was more like it! Doom II was everything you expected it to be and more. In my opinion, this was one of the most comprehensive ports of the classic game that has ever been released. Practically everything is crammed into that miniscule cartridge; all thirty two levels are available to play, with all monsters included in the game (something the PlayStation and Saturn versions couldn’t boast.) Great music, weapons and comprehensive multiplaye all featured in the game. Alongside your standard Death Match affair (that four players could partake in) the added bonus of Doom II was two player co-op play throughout the whole game via link cable. This of course was a major highlight of the GBA version and made the experience even more immersive when you played through with a friend.
The game stuck true to its roots, it truly was Doom II — nothing more, nothing less. You knew exactly what you were getting when you picked it off the shelf. This may be misconstrued as a bad thing nowadays, in that it’s just a port of a game, and straight ports are considered to be lazy, especially when nothing new is added.
What you have to remember here though, is that this is GBA we are talking about. Many of the best games on the system were ports of SNES, Genesis, or PC games. Sure there was amazing original content and IP , but getting your hands on a great port of a classic game and taking it with you also generated quite a stir, and Doom II was the perfect example of how to do it with aplomb.
Levels were detailed and retained almost all the features of the PC original. Enemies were everywhere, with the feeling of isolation and danger at every turn translating very well onto the small screen. The game moves at a fast pace with little in the way of slow down to interrupt you whilst chainsawing a demon or twelve into a wet pulp and I was also amazed by the sound design on this port. Music and FX are crisp and clear, with the meaty blasts of a shotgun complementing the subtle death tones of a demon’s scream perfectly.
Of course, if you are not a fan of the Doom series then there isn’t much on offer to make you reconsider your opinions. Running and gunning with the odd, easily solvable, puzzle thrown in for good measure is the order of the day here. Strategy and tact are two words you probably wouldn’t hear in the same sentence when someone talks about Doom’s single player campaign. Yet the old school mantra for shooters implemented in the game,is part of what makes it so endearing.
Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever II
The last game I am going to be looking at is the sequel to the one of the first FPSes released on GBA: Ecks vs Sever. The fact that the original bore little resemblance to the dire film it is based upon is because it was released before the movie had even begun production. Nevertheless, Ecks vs Sever was praised upon release as it was one of the few FPSes on GBA at the time, and was technically impressive. By the time the sequel, Ballistics: Ecks vs Sever II came about, the GBA was well into its life cycle. Plenty of other FPSes had been released for the system, lessening its impact somewhat.
Ecks vs Sever is basically a crack at making an FPS that was not all mindless run and gun like the two titles we have already looked at. There are hostages to find, ambassadors to save, puzzles to navigate and a nice array of weapons to help you on your travels. This is actually quite a good game and very playable even today. The sound effects of the explosions and shots are impressive as is the overall graphical style. The humble GBA is being given quite a work out by this game and it holds up reasonably well, becoming choppy only when the screen is cluttered with enemies.
Gameplay here is more Goldeneye than Doom; in that you talk to people, collect items you need from them, and then carry out the objectives they give you. Hostages and NPCs have a habit of looking identical to one another, so you will often find yourself happily killing enemies whilst three David Brent lookalikes go crazy, running around in circles behind you.
Don’t let this put you off though. Ballistics is well worth your time. There are multiple levels, rooms, gardens and mazes to traverse each filled with enemies that are surprisingly moreish to kill (albeit a little easy). Pixelated Dobermans, with three frames of animation run at you from time to time, and any game where you can jump into someone’s pond and stab their fish to death gets my vote.
Let’s talk graphics for a minute, now. Geometric shapes and rows of trees that look like wallpaper are not really my idea of great graphics, but they get the job done. Considering this is GBA we are talking about, concessions have to be made. So whilst they may look nothing special today, at the time it was impressive to see such a game on Nintendo’s handheld.
Credit has to be given to developer Crawfish, here. They have managed to craft a twenty four level FPS, that is something a little bit different from the norm. Of all the FPSes I have come across on GBA, it certainly stands out as one of the most playable and addicting. The mission structures mean that you have to think a little more about your actions, whilst the weapons at your disposal make carrying out the tasks a fun and enjoyable experience. Overall, this game is definitely worth picking up if you have not already done so.
So, there you have it, three examples taken from the sizable selection of First Person Shooters that cropped up on GBA. Seeing the genre on a handheld was a novel thing at the time and playing games that a few years before, weren’t even getting great ports onto the PSX and Saturn was exciting to behold. Remakes of games like Doom, and fresh ideas like Ecks v Sever, summed up pretty much the whole GBA software library in one genre.
Mixing old and new is what the GBA was all about, and was just what we as gamers wanted. Part of the GBA appeal was rediscovering old games that were ported or re-imagined, whilst finding new exciting content to get stuck into. The FPS genre encompassed both of these aspects and made a significant contribution towards the legacy of greatness that Nintendo’s revered handheld left behind when the DS took centre stage but that is another story.