Feb 122011

[Continuing our reminiscence of Retroaction’s launch two years ago, we take a look at the very first ‘Raider of the Lost Arcades’ article, which was first published in issue 1.]

Arcade gaming used to be a staple diet for most gamers across the land, with such great innovative games like Space Harrier, OutRun, Operation Wolf and many more showing the way forward for computer and console machines. However, by the mid 1990s, consoles and PCs had improved significantly and arcade games had all but disappeared from the streets. With huge leaps in technology it became less of a need to visit the arcade for the latest and greatest looking game. “Why visit an old dusty arcade when you can play the arcade in your home?” seemed to be the feeling amongst many gamers. Multiplayer and online aspects that most games came with added to the arcade’s downfall. Arcades soon became the forgotten gaming pastime and was ignored by gamers and developers alike.

Batlle Lane has a rather confusing gestation, as the actual license of the game belonged to Taito, who then licensed it to Tecmo, who further licensed it to Romstar. This pass-the-parcel process of distributing the game could be viewed that the general consensus amongst those companies was that the game was abysmal and they wanted to get shot of it. So what we have here is an unappreciated game that was ignored by a lot of journalists, gamers and, well, everyone.

Battle Lane Vol. 5, to give its full title, is a vertical scrolling shoot-’em-up. Think Commando on a motorcycle and you are halfway there. The brief introduction sequence shows a convoy of enemy army bikes, jeeps and trucks driving up the so called ‘battle lane’. One of these heavy load trucks with a trailer is carrying what looks like nuclear weapons. Once they’ve disappeared off screen, the hero, on his little bike, appears ready to chase after them, reach the end of level and destroy the enemy defences.

Driving up the narrow dusty lane, our hero soon encounters the first wave of enemy soldier bikers. But these are not normal bikes; they are sidecar bikes with a soldier in the passenger side who fires pot shots. Pretty soon other enemy vehicles appear: bikes, armoured jeeps, trucks who shoot machine gun fire, lob grenades and fire rockets at you. The eight way directional controls ensure that you can go backwards and forwards as well as dodge from side to side and is naturally essential when our hearo has to dodge incoming fire, vehicles or bridges. In addition to the basic movements, button one fires unlimited bullets while button two fires off a rocket. Rocket power-ups can be picked up along the way and are limited unfortunately.

So yes, Battle Lane is fast, packed with action throughout and there’s nowhere to hide for a breather. While it may seem best just to plough straight up the road and hope for the best, driving and shooting skills will need to be up to scratch. Will you shoot everything in sight, just dodge everything or a fine balance of both tactics? Killing off the enemy isn’t the end of the danger, though, as you’ve still go to concentrate avoiding their vehicle exploding or bike veering off course in front of you.

With three lives, no energy bar and no continues available, this is one tough game to crack. Careful trial and error gameplay is needed to ensure progression. The screen constantly scrolls upwards smoothly and adds to the tension, keeping you on your toes. It can be frustratingly difficult at times and with the first bonus given out after racking up 20,000 points, and every 50,000 points thereafter, the programmers haven’t given any leeway here.

The graphics are colourful and well defined, with some Commando style sprites used. Sound is well catered for with a background soundtrack that plays throughout. Spot effects likes explosions, gunfire and crashes are adequately produced. A two player game is available, albeit consisting of players taking turns one after the other, but it would have been nice to have co-operative gameplay.

At first glance, Battle Lane doesn’t look like much – just a Commando clone with bikes – but play it for a few minutes and you will see that it is different enough to stand on its own. There is an addictively – albeit frustrating – game hidden under familiar visuals. With a bit of practice you’ll soon be racing up ‘battle lane’ causing all sorts of havoc and enjoying one of the arcade’s lost little gems.

[This Battle Plan Vol. 5 article was originally published in Retroaction issue 1, which can be found here.]

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