The Speed Rumbler


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.
The problem is, Super Joe's got two popular starring roles under his belt, but he had another game which nobody really seems to remember. Maybe it's because he didn't have a mechanical limb it or due to the fact he was actually reasonably equipped for this mission, but whatever the reason, The Speed Rumbler remains an obscure title.
The Speed Rumbler is a tragic tale of bastardly bandits living in a world of no law enforcement and very thinly populated towns, giving them remarkable ease in kidnapping the whole damn population. One such target happens to Peace Town, Super Joe's hometown and also named in such a way that it's just begging for hooligans to show up and wreck the place. Super Joe's family are kidnapped and a note is left for him, which doesn't actually threaten him directly, but instead offers a plot summary of the events that have unfolded. It's frighteningly meta, and would actually do a fantastic job of totally screwing with somebody's head.
MY CHALLENGE TO THE READERS: Kidnap someone you know and leave their family a ransom note which, for better or for worse, suggests the ensuing events leading up to your eventual arrest will be like a sequel to The Fugitive (and I literally mean The Fugitive 2, if the events happen to pan out like U.S. Marshals 2 then you're disqualified).


So, tasked with saving his family and the citizens of countless other small towns, Super Joe has his work cut out for him. It also doesn't help that he isn't backed by the military this time - he hasn't got any fancy doohickies or a nice helmet or even any grenades! He's just left to save the world with whatever he's got on hand. Because he's the goddamned Super Joe he always carries a gun with him, though today he had the inconvenience of taking one with the crappest range in existence. Yes, it sprays, but he and I could stand at opposite ends of a room and I wouldn't be scratched. Also, while Super Joe has never quite been the sturdiest of individuals, he will literally give himself a fatal concussion instantly if he collides with any other person.

Friggin' A.
It also doesn't help that the Zappers have armed themselves with modified cars, missile trucks, turrets and all manner of dangerous mobile machinery that will either run Joe down or shoot him dead. Oh, and Joe still dies if he touches them when they're stationary.

He's not even running that fast, for god's sake.

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.
Also, did I mention that there are multiple Speed Rumblers?

Should Joe happen to land himself in a situation without his trusty Rumbler, a friendly truck will drive by and drop off a new one for him. Who is the driver behind this mysterious truck, and where on earth is he getting these additional Speed Rumblers?

It's a moot point because the fucker explodes immediately afterwards.

The problem with all these upgrades is that it doesn't change the fact that the Speed Rumbler is a remarkably fickle piece of machinery. You can ram dune buggies to death with it, plow through dozens of barrels, mow down a hundred men and lock bumpers with an APC or two, but it's also got a bad habit of just instantly exploding for vaguely defined reasons. All the aforementioned actions just drain it of energy, and upon getting low enough it catches fire, giving you at least a brief warning to bail your ass out of there before it utterly explodes. But sometimes, for no adequate explained reason, doing something that looks otherwise unremarkable will kill you as dead as a stone.

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."




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.