Review by MTLH
Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games...
When Desert Strike was released in 1992 for the Sega Megadrive, it proved to be a huge success for Electronic Arts. Ports followed for a myriad of systems, including the Atari Lynx and Amiga, and a follow-up was all but guaranteed. Appropriately titled Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike, the game came out the following year for, again, Sega's console with the inevitable ports appearing in the years that followed. You'd be forgiven for expecting a simple cash-in, for this game to be a retread and little more. Instead, Jungle Strike is a prime example of both the 'more is better' approach and a sequel done right.
Desert Strike looked good, with levels that offered plenty of detailing while being filled with nicely drawn buildings and military hardware. The cutscenes also warranted a shout-out, granting the game a well executed cinematic flair. Sure, the animation could have been a little more fluid but at least Desert Strike generally ran both quickly and smoothly. The main issue here was a distinct lack of variation with regard to the environments which may have been understandable, the game was situated in the desert after all, but was unfortunate nonetheless.
This is not a complaint that can be levelled against Jungle Strike as it's missions will take the player from jungles and urban sprawls to a desert and a winter wonderland and back again. It's quite the change really. There are also more types of enemy to fight as well as more vehicles to commandeer which in their own way also add to the increased variety. The cutscenes have furthermore received an update too, being both more elaborate and better animated. The game as a whole simply looks better than Desert Strike and it is also quite a profound difference at that.
During the game itself you will mostly hear the noise of the vehicle under your command, weapons being fired and the sweet bangs, booms and pows of things blowing up. The insistent sound of the rotor blades and engines aren't nearly as annoying as they could have been, which really is a blessing. The little jingle that sounds whenever something has been accomplished is a nice touch as are the few voice clips. Outside of the gameplay itself there actually is some music and it's mostly what you'd expect, mainly militaristic tunes with a healthy dose of B-movie sensibilities added on top. The results are rather riveting and perfectly fit the game's satirical jingoistic vibe.
Jungle Strike's plot mainly revolves around revenge. The son of the tyrannical madman from Desert Strike wants to get even for his father's death while Carlos Ortega, a powerful South American drug lord, is fed with the United States constantly interfering with his operations. Both strike a deal to attack their common foe and make them pay. This doesn't go unnoticed however, especially when the duo blow up a tropical island in a nuclear weapons test, and once again an attack helicopter is readied to save the day. This is all pretty much still the stuff B-movies are made of but it's delivered with a wink and plenty of flair.
The basics that where introduced with Desert Strike haven't changed. Jungle Strike is still a shooter viewed form an isometric perspective where the player controls a helicopter, a Comanche this time. It's armed with a machine gun, Hydra rockets and Hellfire missiles and also sports a winch with which to pick up passengers and objects. The weapons only need to be aimed in a general direction with the onboard gunner taking care of most of the work, with better co-pilots becoming available over the course of the game. On a side-note, aiming has seemingly been tightened up a bit for this sequel so the gunner now first aims at the more logical targets, such as that tank firing on you, instead of the building standing besides it. Ammunition is furthermore limited, as is fuel by the way, and both need to be replenished by picking up ammo crates and fuel drums.
Jungle Strike is divided into several campaigns and each further consists of several objectives. These range from taking out specific buildings or pieces of infrastructure and liberating certain individuals to capturing important items and escorting high ranking officials. Although these objectives are usually given in a certain order, with the latter ones often enough even being unknown at the mission's start, there is little preventing the player from striking out and doing his or her own thing. This can pay off handsomely, for example when you take a calculated risk and capture the heavily defended enemy commander first who then reveals the whereabouts of additional ammo and fuel. This adds a dose of strategy to the game which elevates it above being just a simple shooter.
Adding to this is the balancing act that comes with keeping the helicopter airborne and armed. Do you fly straight to the next objective or is it more prudent to take a little detour and stock up on rockets and such lest the machine have nothing to fire at the enemy when push comes to shove? It's perhaps also smart to demolish a few buildings in a bid to uncover some drums, crates and armour repair kits in case they are needed later on. You ignore such matters at your own peril.
In the introduction I mentioned the 'more is better' approach taken by Jungle Strike. This not only comes to bear due to the increased variety in environments but also because of what you do in them. Several objectives now require multiple steps to complete, for example, some enemies and other targets need to be sought out instead of them simply being marked on the map and there is also a campaign that takes place during night time and requires weapons fire and the accompanying explosions to light the way forwards. There are also more vehicles to control this time besides the helicopter, with a hovercraft, assault motorcycle and stealth fighter being on the menu. My favourite of the bunch is certainly the latter. This aircraft is simply a fun addition with it's unlimited supply of fuel and ammunition providing plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc and mayhem which is, in a way, a thoroughly cathartic experience.
The controls are just as sharp and direct as they where in the predecessor even if getting to grips with the new vehicles may take some practice. It isn't so much that they control all that differently but rather that their handling does require some getting used to with especially the stealth fighter being a case in point due to it's automatic propulsion. The HUD remains absent, being relegated to the map screen. It's a hallmark of the Strike series, for the 16-bit era entries at least, and it's something I can certainly appreciate due to the clear view on the action it provides.
A returning issue is that the camera is placed a little too low for my liking. The viewpoint may be unobstructed but you could do with seeing just a little more of the area surrounding the chopper. Enemies still have a tendency to target and fire on the machine the very second they even threaten to come into view while the continuously jetting stealth fighter is more likely to perish due to colliding with a suddenly appearing structure than actually being shot down. A slightly higher vantage point might have, to a degree, negated such annoyances.
Jungle Strike offers nine campaigns which is more than double the amount featured in the predecessor. This is quite a though game too, even more so than Desert Strike. It starts out with one of the hardest campaigns of the bunch, becomes a bit less demanding afterwards before ramping up the difficulty once again at around the halfway point. The opposition is fierce and while fuel and ammunition may generally be plentiful, they must often enough first be uncovered which may take some effort. A recurring element are furthermore the danger zones, places where otherwise regular foes hit harder and take more punishment, which can really take away those lives at an alarmingly rapid rate. A password is provided after each campaign which is much appreciated.
Desert Strike already was, and still is, a fine game. It combined shooting action with a good dose of strategy and resource management, resulting in an experience that went slightly deeper than you might have expected. Sure the visuals where a little basic, mostly due to the rather monotonous scenery, the camera could have been placed a little higher and the targeting wasn't always handled as smoothly as it could have been but on the whole Desert Strike is still a 16-bit classic for a reason. It's simply a highly compelling and fun game.
Jungle Strike takes the template laid down by Desert Strike and turns it up to eleven. What does that entail? Well, more campaigns, more vehicles to control, more enemies to defeat, more variety with regard to the environments, better visuals, smoother targeting and, to top it all off, a sterner challenge. All this is what Jungle Strike offers and that is also what makes it such an exemplary sequel. Some issues remain, the viewpoint is still placed a tad too low for comfort, but the result is that of a good game turned into a fantastic one. I would still recommend Desert Strike to anyone, if only for it's historic significance, but if you want to play the best the Strike series has to offer, head off into the jungle. You won't be disappointed.
OVERALL: a 9,4.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Jungle Strike (EU, 12/31/93)
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