I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never been a fan of SNK. Not that I don’t like their games, far from it in fact, I just haven’t played many of them. For whatever reason, they never caught my eye while I was growing up and only in the last few years have I grown to appreciate the works of SNK. Some friends at the Vision of Anime Club in Milwaukee are big fans of some of the old Neo Geo Arcade games, and they introduced me to classics like Metal Slug and Final Fight. So when Marcus assigned me two old SNK titles first my first SelectButton reviews, I thought, “Great!”
It turns out that my excitement was somewhat misplaced. Gang Wars was published by SNK in the late 1980’s. They have recently been re-released as downloadable Minis on PSN. However, now that I’ve had the chance to play the game, I really can’t understand why they did it. I really feel that they are subpar by SNK’s standards. One could argue that this title simply didn’t age well, but it’s much worse than that. There are flaws present that I think would have ticked gamers off when the games were new. Moreover, Gang Wars is not really any fun to play, and I don’t think it could stand up against other games of the time, let alone those we have today.
I feel the need to seriously talk about Gang Wars. If you have played Double Dragon, or any other side scrolling brawler made in the past 25 years, than you’ve already played Gang Wars. This one is as generic as they come in both story and gameplay. Two players can take control of street brawlers Mike and Jackie as they fight to save a young girl from the notorious Jaguar Gang. Essentially, this game shares its plot with just about every B grade action flick made at the time. The story is advanced through may be the crudest cutscenes that I have ever laid eyes on. The images used are quite poor, even for the time. The first one you see is that of a mobster Freddy Krueger look-a-like whose eyes seem to be very surprised for some reason. This person also speaks using very awkward lip flaps that would even look strange on a ventriloquist’s dummy.
The rest of cutscenes don’t have this issue since they only use still images, though I find it ironic that those are the ones that incorporate voice-overs. One would think voice-overs would be an impressive feat for a game this old, but it’s really nothing to get excited about. Each cutscene after the first features the same monotone, computer generated voice, that probably couldn’t convey emotion if you set its pants on fire. I have to give SNK props for trying something new, but the end result is still bad any way you look at it.
The controls are simple, using only three buttons and the D-pad. The player can punch, kick, and jump – the last of which is good only for flying kicks and dodging the occasional projectile. There is very little skill involved as the only real trick is to hit enemies before they hit you. Doing so will stun lock most foes to the point where they are virtually helpless. Getting hit yourself, however, is annoying as hell. Not only does it not take much to knock down your character, but the enemies also burst out laughing every time it happens. I can’t tell you how much their laughter infuriates me. Plus, they laugh so often that this game might as well be a sitcom. I wish these morons would take a cue from “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit” and laugh themselves to death.
Much like Double Dragon, there are weapons that you can pick up throughout each stage. Unlike Double Dragon however, these weapons are practically useless. It’s nearly impossible to swing a melee weapon without getting hit, which then causes you to drop it. The only weapon that’s worth picking up is the machine gun, but that makes everything far too easy. A single burst is enough to knock down most foes, meaning that they will never be able to close the distance and attack you. At that point, the game is so easy there is little point in playing.
The only thing that I find interesting about Gang Wars is that it incorporates a leveling system. At the end of each stage, the player can receive one or more skill points to improve one of three attributes: Power, Speed, and Guard. These upgrades greatly affect the player’s abilities in the game. Speed is probably the most important stat, since it allows you to strike your enemies before they can strike back. Since there is no way to block in this game, I would have to guess that Guard provides passive damage reduction. The points gained are based on experience that the player earns through each stage. One trick I’ve learned is that XP is greatly dependant on the players remaining health, so it might be worth taking a dive just to come back fully healed before the stage ends.
Gang Wars is a poor example of a concept that has been done to death. With so many better side-scrolling brawler games in existence, this game doesn’t even make par. SNK’s later side-scroller, Final Fight, is far superior to Gang Wars in just about every way. In fact, Final Fight: Double Impact, is also available through PSN, thus eliminating any reason to play Gang Wars at all.Note: Gang Wars was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.