Elevator Action Old & New

Format: GameBoy Advance
Developed by: Mediakite
Published by: Taito
Based on: Love in an elevator

Genre: 2D Platformer/Shooter
Media: Cartridge
Date: 20 December 2002 (Japan)

Mediakite is a newcomer on the gaming scene. While I've not yet played any of their other products - most of which are GBA ports of Taito titles - I can extrapolate their guiding corporate philosophy from their latest piece, Elevator Action Old & New. That philosophy is this: "Give with one hand, take punch in the crotch with the other."

Elevator Action is one of those games that was cutting edge in an era when arcades ruled the earth and most people reading this were barely tall enough to see over the control console of the game's cabinet. EA hasn't aged terribly well, but it deserves at least a footnote in the annals of gaming history for a few reasons. It was possibly the first game to trade all-out shooting for tactical espionage action and actually required some small degree of strategy, as the foes who sought to derail the player's secret agent escapades were unusually canny for fedora-clad stick figures. The duck-into-the-doors gimmick was a direct inspiration to Namco's exercise in arcade perfection, Rolling Thunder. And the game's name made it sound like a porn flick with a heavy emphasis on Aerosmith music, which might well be where Panesian and American Video Entertainment got their start. [1] To have this classic adventure revitalized on the GBA is where Mediakite's "giving" hand comes into play.

Elevator Action also inspired a quality sequel, which appeared in American arcades a few years back to approximately zero acclaim. Despite its lack of success and popularity, Elevator Action 2 is one of the best arcade games I've played in recent years - a fast-paced, quarter-munching action shooter that reclaims a bit of EA's heritage from Rolling Thunder and adds a healthy dose of graphical gimmicks and stage setpieces to the mix. The opportunity to play a portable EA2 is something no 2D-loving geek could pass up. And this, alas, is where the "crotch-punching" hand leaps into the fray.

Had Elevator Action Old & New simply been a port of both EA arcade games, I would have posted a review consisting of nothing but a five-frog rating and left it at that. Normally I'm not a big fan of direct ports to GBA, but when one ported title is an arcade classic and the other was only made available as an import for a dead system, compiling the two would be less an act of opportunism and more like a public service. Unfortunately, while the "Old" here is indeed a solid port of the original game, the "New" isn't EA2 but rather a completely new Elevator Action sequel, which could best be described as "Elevator Action 1.5." Far more fluid and entertaining than the 20-year-old game which started the series, EA New is nevertheless a great deal less sophisticated than the previous sequel. Gone are the in-game cinematics, the numerous special weapons, the large, varied levels, the lanky supersoldiers, the amazing voice samples exhorting gamers to crush the old order and create a new society. What we have is instead something that plays a lot like the original game with more variety and a better interface. And, for no apparent reason whatsoever, a team of squashy-headed midgets at the player's beck and call.

Actually, the name "Elevator Action, Jr." would work just as well - EA New eschews both the look of the arcade original [2] and the undeniably mid-90s aesthetic of EA2 [3] and replaces them with a cartoony style that makes Wind Waker's Link look downright Schwarzeneggerian. The playable trio could send the Powerpuff Girls into insulin shock, and the bad guys are so adorable you feel vaguely guilty about killing them. [4] The game seems to have been designed to appeal to ten-year-olds, which is a pretty strange way to go about things. Elevator Action isn't precisely a franchise with Mario-level fame or longevity; the ideal market for EA Old & New was learning about algebraic matrices and being forced to recite Chaucer right about the time that the group to whom the game is being marketed was discovering the science of making poopie in diaper.

All that aside, the game isn't too bad. It starts off insultingly simple, but the core gameplay concepts are sound and the difficulty gradually ramps up. Very gradually, it should be noted - by the time it finally hits its stride with huge, intricate stages populated by tough enemies and loaded with power-ups, the game's practically over. While rooted firmly in the basics of the original Elevator Action - use elevators and escalators to sneak through heavily-guarded buildings and procure secret documents from their secret hiding places (i.e., doors handily painted a secret shade of red), occasionally crushing the life from your foes with an impressively responsive elevator car - it also borrows liberally from the 1995 sequel. You can choose from midget revamps of EA2's three playable characters [5], pick up machine guns and grenades, eat hamburgers for instant life recovery and enjoy the exact same "level clear" theme. You can even do a few things unique to this game, like dress up as an enemy agent to slip past tough foes unnoticed. While having five unique enemies is a definite improvement over EA's single spy morphotype, it's a far cry from the dozen or more enemies offered by EA2. The lack of jetpack troops alone is cause for genuine despair.

The story in both EA Old and EA New is so simple as to be nonexistent. Nothing is explained onscreen, so maybe it's all in the manual. As that's available only in Japanese at the moment, I just have assume that the secret agent trio is out to stop Clonaid's nefarious scheme to dupe the media into thinking they've perfected human cloning by unleashing an army of guys wearing the exact same black trenchcoat and fedora. [6] This transpires through eight stages, divided into 2-4 levels apiece. For some reason the stages occur in palette-swapped pairs - the only difference between Laboratory One's three levels and Laboratory Two's four levels is the elevator layout and the color of paint. Modular housing: that's true evil. Unfortunately, none of the levels are as unusual or interesting as EA2's airport or oil rig, but by the time you get to the enemy headquarters stages you'll be much too busy trying to survive to mind. Unlike previous EA games, EA New abides by a strict time limit for each stage; if you fail to clear a stage within the proper time limit, you don't simply lose a life - you have to start the stage all over. Fortunately, continues are unlimited, and the game autosaves upon completion of each level, so this is a lot less frustrating than it could be.

The final noteworthy feature is a competitive 2-player (or vs. computer) mode. Your character drops all the documents you've collected from the red doors whenever you get offed, so there's a lot of backstabbing involved in competitive play.

As for Elevator Action Old, it's a exceptional port of an old arcade game. A game which happens to be terribly dated and a lot less playable than the sequel which accompanies it. You'll probably give it a spin, have fun for a few minutes, and go back to the smoother, prettier EA New.

It's somewhat unfair to grade a game for what it isn't [7]; nevertheless, it's frustrating that so many elements were borrowed from Elevator Action 2 to create an ultimately less impressive game. The first EA was a game perfectly suited to the arcades of the early '80s; EA2 fit in well with the mid-90s. EA New, however, seems archaic in 2003. It's more like an early 16-bit game, a refugee from TurboGraFX-16 (c. 1990) that found sanctuary with the huddled masses yearning to be free on Nintendo's latest handheld. But taken on its own merits, EA New is a pleasant if unimpressive game that serves as a respectable sequel to an arcade classic; that said classic also happens to be contained on the same cart is a pleasant perk. There's only a few hours of diversion here, but it's an enjoyable enough way to pass those hours. Provided you can overlook the vague but unmistakable sensation that someone's punching your groin every time you play, that is.

[1] Alright, so this isn't what most people would consider a bragging point. [Return]

[2] That is, Spy Vs. Spy recast with stick figures. [Return]

[3] You probably know the style. It's that peculiar anime look perched precariously between the big hair and dewy soft focus of the '80s - a la Macross and Bubblegum Crisis - and the bug-eyed anorexic look of the post-Sailor Moon/Tenchi Muyo world. [Return]

[4] Unless your idea of a good time is popping old ladies' heads with the sniper rifle in GTA. In which case it's just a matter of time before you're arrested for eating live puppies. [Return]

[5] There's the all-purpose British guy, the fast but weak American girl and the big, tough, fat Chinese guy with a chicken drumstick perpetually lodged in his mouth (and an unsettling resemblance to TV's Frank) . Apparently being gluttonously overweight greatly boosts your endurance, much to the surprise of fitness experts the world over. There's also a fourth, unlockable character, a ninja from Japan who - shock shock - has the best stats in the game. [Return]

[6] And thanks to the gullible sensationalism of the mass media, they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those darned kids and their dog! [Return]

[7] Unless what the game isn't is "fun," which is why I don't have any remorse about kicking disasters like Xenogears and Legend of Legaia in the proverbial throat. [Return]