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Death Duel

Genre: Fighting Developer: Punk Development Publisher: Razorsoft Players: 1 Released: 1992

It seems that throughout the history of man, bloody competition has been a key element of society’s social infrastructure. Every major civilization, from the Romans to modern times, has had some gladiatorial contest where two opponents fight it out to the death, usually for their freedom or for money. We seem to take ghoulish delight in watching people kill each other for our entertainment, and there is no shortage of willing participants. I wonder, are fighting and killing wrong if so many people are willing to take part in it?

That question doesn’t have a simple answer in Razorsoft’s Death Duel. Not only is it right, an entire civilization’s very way of life depends on it. Nine of the ten alien races have seized control of critical trade routes, leaving the lone federation to fight or face starvation and plunder. The only legal way to combat such oppression is through combat, and each federation has sent a champion to compete for total control. Players take control of Barrett Jade and his mighty A-7 Trinity Rote Cyborg, Earth’s only hope for survival.

The rules of competition are simple. Choose three weapons (one for each button on the controller) and defeat the enemy before the 90 seconds on the timer run out. Win, and it’s off to a qualifying round for a chance for extra cash and enter the next bout. Lose and the game takes a way a life and restarts the duel. Each of the nine aliens requires a specific strategy, as just shooting madly will get players nowhere. Barrett’s ammunition is limited, and foes often regenerate lost limbs or hide behind scenery. Once their weaknesses are found, they tend to go down pretty quickly with the right weapon, so the key is making enough money to purchase the required armament and knowing when to shoot.

I noticed that it takes a bit more aim to correctly use the shoulder weapons, allocated to buttons A and B, than the center weapon, and firing them on the move quickly becomes the focus of on-the-job-training. Players must know how to manage their ammo count for each weapon, specifically the one best against the current opponent, and it’s often better to just die and restart the round than wait for the timer to run out. Equally, if all Barrett’s weapons go dry, the round must be restarted.

Victory earns cash rewards which must be used to repair Barrett’s cyborg and purchase more ammunition from the arms dealer. Mastering the qualifying stages is vital for not only entering the next round but for earning enough money to stock up. It takes time and patience to learn which weapon to use against each enemy (although an internet search can reveal this instantly, but why would anyone want to do that?), and it’s quite rewarding to finally discover their weaknesses and totally dominate. Grenades, laser guns, missiles, and machine guns are just some of the available weaponry, but splurging on them will leave Barrett with little money left to repair his ride.

If there’s one thing players will notice, it’s that Death Duel is pretty gory for an early Genesis title. This is no surprise, considering that Razorsoft was also behind TechnoCop, which was equally bloody. Enemy limbs splatter and shatter with satisfying detail, and defeated foes often collapse into oozing puddles or just outright explode. The “not suggested for children under 13” disclaimer on the back of the box does little to illustrate how graphic the game can be, so be sure to play when there are no little ones present.

That’s not to say that the game is horrifically violent. In actuality, it’s quite silly in its presentation. The action is viewed from a first-person perspective, and players maneuver a cross-hair around for aiming. Enemies move from left to right and hide behind scenery, and they look pretty funny as their limbs come off . The backgrounds are pretty sparse though, and there could have been some more detail or variety added to them. Overall, it all looks decent enough, and even the girl who presents each round is cleanly rendered, hot pants and all.

My only real complaint about Death Duel is the potential lack of replay value. Once players know which weapons to use, the game gets pretty easy. It’s often possible to defeat an alien foe in a matter of seconds, and the game is over before it really has a chance to begin. It’s a great journey getting to this point, to be sure, but once there, there doesn’t seem much more reason to keep playing.

In the end, Death Duel is a solid early entry to the Genesis library that never really seemed to get much press, most likely due to its violent nature. It’s pretty tame by modern standards, however, and it should be reasonably inexpensive to come by. I recommend giving Barrett and his cyborg a chance, at least for a while. The fun may be short lived, but sometimes it’s better to burn out than to fade away!

Score: 7 out of 10

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