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Caliber .50

Genre: Run-‘N-Gun Developer: Mentrix Publisher: Mentrix Players: 1 Released: 1991

Looking at my Genesis collection the other day, I came across the enigma that is the defunct publisher Mentrix. I have a few of its games on my shelf, and I just can’t understand the company. It dedicated itself to a paltry few arcade ports and then upped and vanished like a fart in the wind, never to be seen again. Its legacy is a mixed one, as on the one hand we’ve got a quality platformer in Wardner, but on the other we’re left with the plodding, dull mess that is Caliber .50.

Plodding – probably the first word that comes to mind whenever I think about this game. See folks, if you’re going to make a run-‘n-gun, you basically need two elements: running and guns, preferably copious amounts of both. Take a look at Gunstar Heroes and Contra Hardcorps for examples of what I mean. Mentrix apparently only skimmed over its reading assignment with Caliber .50, as it left out the whole running thing entirely. Honestly, I have never played a slower shooter than this. You’d think that someone being shot at by everything that moves would be in more of a rush to get going, but that’s not what’s happening here. No, the main character in Caliber .50 dallies along as though he’s on vacation and without a care in the world (wading through rivers? Excruciating.). I think if you listen closely, you can actually hear him whistling.

The reason for this blasé pace is unknown. Mentrix obviously got a passing grade in Wartime Arcade Shooters 101 from the SNK School of Firearms & Action, so how it could have missed such a fundamental detail is beyond me. It’s akin to hosting a barbecue and forgetting to bring matches; you just don’t do it. The effect such an omission has is so detrimental to the overall product that what you’re left with comes off like diet soda: same texture and smell, but definitely lacking in taste.

Come to think of it, there are a few other elements that are just as bland.
For one thing, the weapons selection is almost non-existent, and what’s there is just plain uninteresting. A stronger bullet and a flamethrower are all the government can apparently afford you on your mission, and the grenades you’re armed with out of the gate are all but useless. And what the hell is my mission here anyway? To save a downed fighter pilot? POWS? If so, why did it take the government twenty years to arrange a rescue? And didn’t Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris already take care of this? Normally, I’m indifferent to the lack of a plot in this type of game, but that’s usually because there’s some solid action and massive bosses to make up for it. It’s either funny or annoying – I haven’t quite decided which – that there’s actually a story credit at the end of this game.

Unfortunately, Caliber .50 manages to bear its mediocrity proudly in the enemy category as well as in plot line. The few bosses there are make almost no sense (why am I fighting a giant turtle on a mountain?), and their attacks are laughable. In fact, perhaps their greatest method of offense is to simply sit on you and not let you move around – or maybe they just don’t know that the main character is wearing Forest Gump’s leg braces under his camouflage. Even worse, if your weapon is powered up enough and you can actually manage to avoid getting squashed, killing them is as easy as pointing your gun in their general direction.

Something that annoyed me greatly was that enemies remain dead only as long as you don’t move the screen off the location where they died. Say you kill off three bazooka troopers. You move upward to take out two riflemen, but have to retreat downward to avoid their fire. Guess who you’re going to run into again as you head back to your starting point? That’s right, the same three bazooka guys you just eliminated. Now you’re caught in a crossfire. Normally, run-‘n-guns overcome this programming brain fart by forcing the player to constantly push onward and never stick around in one place for too long. Caliber .50 makes no such attempt. You can sit around in the same area for as long as you like, and there are never any signs or arrows – or indicators of any type – to tell you which way to go or that it’s time to move on. Not that you’d ever get lost or anything, but it’s nice to know when an area has been cleaned out. I like it when a game occasionally prompts me in the right direction, especially one that’s supposed to be too frantic to give you time to think about where you should go. That’s not an issue here though, given the snail’s pace of the action.

Oh, did I mention that it lacks two-player support? Yes friends, Caliber .50 is a solo affair, something else to jot down in the “flaws” column. A big part of what made SNK’s game so much fun was the ability to tear through the jungle with a pal. Mentrix obviously thought that such a feature would be too much for the players to handle, so it left it out. Hey, that probably explains the painfully slow gameplay too! At least Mentrix was thinking about my health!

You know, the more I think about it, the more I dislike Caliber .50. The visuals lack any real detail or flair, and the enemies are the same three guys that just keep reappearing over and over. I can get past the fact that it looks and sounds more like a well-polished Master System title than a Genesis game (the soundtrack is catchy but suffers from horrible execution), but I just can’t overcome what a lazy effort it is all around. If Mentrix was going to copy Ikari Warriors, then it could of at least taken some of the elements that actually made that classic, you know, fun.

At the end of the day, Caliber .50 is an also-ran in the race for Genesis run-‘n-gun dominance. Its slow and uninspired gameplay, archaic presentation, and complete lack of fun send it back to its dusty corner of my game shelf for what’s bound to be a long time. Want to blow things up? Then there are at least a dozen better ways for you to get your testosterone pumping.

SCORE: 3 out of 10

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