Hey, do you know Super
Joe, the star of several early age Capcom titles? He was once the go-to guy for
being a one-man army whenever a tyrannical militia needed toppling. He battled
against a never-ending parade of enemy forces in Commando, despite being stacked
against ridiculous uneven odds (and the fact he would drown instantly is he so
much got his toes wet), and in Bionic Commando he acquired the powers of an
artificial arm, granting him the ability to swing across platforms like a madman
at the expense of being able to thrust his body upwards in a jumping-like
manner. Mind you, the more popular incarnation of the latter game, the NES
version, made him the subject of a damsel-in-distress plot where some new dude
had to bust his ass out of enemy territory. And now he's known for making that
dude's wife into a
bionic arm. Talk about a fall from grace.
Poor Joe has got quite substantial odds stacked against him, and even if he
survives the onslaught of homicidal maniacs, vehicles and projectiles, there's
still the matter of him having to cross the country in 24 hours. Okay, the note
doesn't actually explain what happens when those 24 hours are up, but Joe
is not a man for waiting around. The bad guys may have cars, but Super Joe is
the only man in the world who has
THE SPEED RUMBLER
Okay, it's never said if that's the actual name of the car or if it's just some name they thought would make a good title for a video game, but if I had a car I'd certainly name it Speed Rumbler. That or Space Cadillac. The Speed Rumbler is pretty fast. Not super fast, but it sure beats walking speed. It can also shoot bullets. If that isn't a sweet car, I don't know what is. It's reasonably durable - it can get shot at and collide with cars a number of times with only minor scratches, but it's also wildly inconsistent. Colliding with a truck can reduce it to a flame wreck which you've got to abandon, while other machinery such as armoured personnel carriers and mine carts will blow the damn thing up in an instant.
Fortunately, Super Joe is no dozer, as he expected his car to become a flaming
wreck sooner or later. Knowing this, the Speed Rumbler is made to gain
modifications and patch-ups on the fly, simply by running into people carrying
giant symbols. The car begins in fairly average condition (yes, it shoots
bullets, but it doesn't shit miracles or anything), but along the way it can
instantaneously upgrade itself to be doubly awesome. It's got upgrades for
everything. Do you want to drive faster? There's an upgrade for that! Do your
want your bullets to kill faster? Easy to find! Do you want to extend the Speed Rumbler's life bar? You'd better believe that's possible! And do you want a
sledge hammer to appear in your status bar? Well, yeah, you can do that, though
hell knows what it even achieves.
The manner Super Joe goes about getting these upgrades is a little ridiculous,
though; to craft up a little imaginary back-story here, let's pretend Super Joe
is a celebrity in Peace Town and everybody respects the balls off him. So he
builds the Speed Rumbler and tells them all about how totally hardcore it is,
but knowing that one man alone cannot be held responsible for the actions of his
automobile, he handed out all the upgrades to various towns people, and should
the Speed Rumbler ever be required to save the day, he'd find them and power up.
So, now that the Zappers are in town, that ridiculous plan has come to
fruition, he can free them from their oversized prisons and arm himself up via
collecting the honkin' big upgrades sitting on top of their heads.
Take, for instance, this truck. Most enemies shoot at you - it's just a fact of life, big whoop, no need to fight about it - but this truck is a murder in disguise. It shoots bullets, see, but they kill you instantly. They neither look or sound differently from any other bullet, except they will frigging kill you to death on contact. A lot of the game just seems to be trail and error when it comes to what kills you and what doesn't - although it's wise not to crash into every damn thing in sight, usually you get away with a mild bump and a little scratch of damage, but sometimes you just die instantly. It's like pricking yourself with a variety of pins and half of them cause you to spontaneously combust.
This is all made worse by the fact that the Zappers have vehicles that are, dare I say it, way past cool. They've got dune buggies! They've got trucks! They've got hovercrafts! They've got spiked trucks! Their cars are outfitted with all manner of ridiculous weaponry, and the player is instead left with a crappy blue car that can't even successfully run people down. This is just one of the many ways the game destroys your spirit.
But that should be enough briefing about the mission. Let's speed some rumbles!
Peace Town is your typical easy-peasy level to start the game off and introduces you to the most basic of enemies - dudes on foot, dudes in cars, and dudes in trucks. The layout is reasonably simple and there's no real traps or anything...
Until you reach the second half, where either Peace Town turns into Weapons And Artillery Manufacturing Town, or the Zappers just decided to put a lot of their dangerous crap there. There's conveyor belts carrying bombs (instant death!), cannons on rails (instant death!) and spiked APCs (close enough!). The cannons on rails are particularly egregious - most, if not all of them are totally invincible to your bullets. You can literally sit there for hours (in-game hours, which are basically minutes) and fill the sucker with enough lead to fill a corpse and it's still going to be there. In that case, you'd think the sensible thing to do would be to ram it off the rails, but... no. The Speed Rumbler does not care for your fickle logic.
At the end of each stage you're greeted by multiple clones of Super Joe and several more Speed Rumblers. If there's one thing to applaud the game for, it's very open about the logic behind having extra lives.
This is where the environment starts working against you - you no longer have the wide open spaces of the peaceful towns, but now you're in craggily, cramped valley paths with all manner of rubble and vegetation blocking your way. Also, the bad guys have dune buggies now! They're a lot more vulnerable and easily destroyed than the regular cars, so I've no idea why they were even included. They do look neat, though.
And this is also where the game makes it abundantly clear that it loves pitting you up against increasingly ridiculous threats. This is the only appearance of the awesome armoured tanks, and although they're easily avoided by just driving in between them, they do make for lovely ways to shake off enemy cars. If there's one good thing to say about all the instant-death collisions, it applies doubly so for the enemies. The rolling barrels are also wonderful ways to get them off your tail.
So, have you gotten sick of the instant-death yet? Good, because now there's landmines! They're a joke in comparison to the water. If there's water in a video game, over half the time it will be the easiest and most infuriating way to kill yourself. It doesn't help that once you're doomed, there's no hope of escaping. The collision detection on that shit is appalling - if you so much as plant a tire on the water, your car stops dead and explodes. Fun times!
Stone Hill starts off a bit more windy and bendy than the previous level, but given the struggle the second half of Rock Valley was, this is a cakewalk in comparison. It also serves as the introduction to the cars with cannons on their doors! So, like, they shoot sideways. This also renders them completely pointless and easy to kill, but I admire the effort.
Winding paths and enemies hiding behind every corner are no big deal, but about when water is brought into the equation? There's a crafty addition of conveyor belts this time that lead into the river, not to mention rocks sliding along them. I think by this point I don't need to say that the rocks will kill you instantly.
The last trek isn't necessarily dangerous; there's lots of enemies with strong firepower lingering around, including a car that drops boulders in your path, but the real danger here is simply the lack of direction. There's a lot of dead ends that lead into water (which is hard to see in advance thanks to the vertical screen) and the path you're really meant to take is behind a big wall that shoots death bullets at you.
And, hey, look at that, narrow bridges. Thanks, guys, it's what I always wanted.
The two words that define the Armed Port are TRUCKS AHOY!! The "port" part of the name is rather questionable since it switches to generic sandy territory not even halfway through, but it certainly means it when it says "armed." Oh, and there's instant-death boxes just lying around.
The majority of the level is taken up with this army of spiked trucks, which not only pack a punch in their firearms but will, of course, murder you on the slightest of collisions. They only move left and right, mercifully, bit this part of the stage is basically a task of luring them out of the way and then charging past before they can crush you. This becomes quite a nuisance when there's other cars trying to kill you, as quite often they'll just push you back the way you came into the path of certain death. It is kinda funny, mind you.
The Armed Port was the time for the trucks to shine - the Develop Zone is where the cannons-on-rails steal the spotlight. And once again, you repeat the lure-them-away-and-make-like-a-tree techniques to get past them, but these things are not only quicker to react, they've also got a lot less horizontal space to work with. I hope you like being really, really precise! Three new enemies make their first appearance here, the first of which is the bulldozer. In summary, it's just the spiked APC again, except smaller and cuter.
Then there's the eight-way-death-cannons. They're like cars, except they can shoot you everywhere. Also, instant death. And finally, there's the cannons-on-vertical-rails. They're pretty unremarkable.
"We at Zap Town Tourism Board value your comments, and will do our best to improve on every point you make."
EVERYTHING'S TRYING TO KILL ME
THERE ARE CANNONS EVERYWHERE AND THEY'RE BLASTING THE SHIT OUT OF MY CAR
OH MY GODDDD
Though I will say the decorative pool is very nice and more of them should be placed around the town.
Really, what is there to say about Zap Town? The place is crawling with every Zapper in existence, almost every enemy you've encountered will be waiting to ambush you somewhere, and the geography is made solely so dudes can shoot you in the ass and you can't do a thing about it. Things get cramped and nasty later on, and quite frankly, I don't see how you can go about it sensibly without just ploughing through everything in sight. If anything, it is pretty satisfying if you're geared up for it, as there's so many dudes to kill and plentiful revenge to reap.
But that doesn't make for a satisfying video game conclusion, you've got to have a proper one-on-one fight! Enter this frightening monstrosity. How do you even accurately categorise something like that? It's not quite a tank, it's not quite a car, and quite frankly, it looks more like a parade float decked out for battle than any vehicular battle transport I know of. I mean, what the hell is all on it? I see spikes, cannons, a furnace, a cockpit, and a hell of a lot of bullets. Still, even without the bazooka it doesn't take too much to destroy it, and I'm surprised they didn't use this opportunity to just pit more cars against you; it's the one and only time in the game you face an enemy one-on-one, and it proves just how ineffectual it is. Oh well.
Upon the machine's explosive defeat, the captive villages pour out of the doorways to celebrate Super Joe's victory, as the ending text restores the status quo. True to his name, even without the right preparations, Super Joe is just super enough to save the day no matter what, even if it does require at least a small fortune in credits.
And then the game starts all over again.
Okay, looking at the game like that, it's no surprise the game isn't remembered quite as fondly as the likes of Commando. Commando occupies itself with solely being an overhead shooter, but Speed Rumbler tries to incorporate both that and the new driving mechanics, and the game doesn't seem quite suited to either of them - on foot Joe is just too slow to really achieve anything, and avoiding the slowest of bullets is a difficult feat, while in a car the game gives the player the illusion of having health, even though half the time it doesn't bloody work. The car exists to give you a false sensation of being more capable and powerful, and being on foot exists solely as punishment for not using the four-wheeled death trap. If the game had sought out to use one or the other and made it stand on its own, rather than the rather wonky product we got, then maybe things would've turned out better.
But completely ignoring that, the game is balls hard, and sometimes that happens to be enough to make it passable. Plus, it's an arcade game. They're made for the sole purpose of lodging a foot in your rectum and making you pay for it. What more can you ask for than that? On the bright side, the game has appeared on at least a couple of Capcom's recent arcade compilations, so it's certainly not doomed to uttermost obscurity like, say, Battle Circuit.