Genre: Action Developer: Wolf Team Publisher: Telenet Players: 1 Released: 1993
I have to admit that I love Japanese anime involving massive, heavily-armed robots. There’s just something cool about a squad of people occupying the extremities of a gigantic metallic avenger that awakens the ten year-old in me. Who doesn’t like to see massive robots tearing things up? I assume that’s why Transformers remains so popular, Michael Bay notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to equate awesome robots with the Sega CD. For most fans of the console, images of Black Hole Assault are about all that come to mind whenever the topic is mentioned. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing, as there really isn’t much in this category on the hardware. There is one title, however, that at least merits mention. Telenet’s Devastator makes a half-hearted contribution to the genre, and after playing it, one tends to understand why so few Sega CD games feature large robots.
It’s not that Devastator is bad; it’s actually quite competent. The problem lies in the fact that one does not expect such a game to be merely competent; one expects it to kick all sorts of ass. In that regard, Wolf Team and Telenet let us down, and the game was tossed onto the massive pile of titles that the company chose not to localize due to financial strain. As an import-only release, Devastator just might not be worth all the trouble one has to go through to play it on actual hardware.
Based on a two-part OAV of the same name, Devastator features a pair of heroes in a massive robot that can also change into a car (someone call Hasbro’s legal division!). The pair embark on a quest to kill repetitive, respawing enemies in all sorts of locations. This is interesting, considering that the anime cut scenes that play out between levels always take place in the city. How closely the game follows the anime is anyone’s guess, and I have been unable to find the OAV to compare. Not that it’s important though, as Wolf Team undoubtedly only paid lip service to the cartoon in an attempt to cash in on any possible brand recognition.
The game itself is merely average. Though Devastator itself can transform into a massive tank-like vehicle, the ability is never used in-game. In fact, the only time gamers will see it is at the start of each stage, where Devastator transforms from it into robot form. I wonder why the developers didn’t take advantage of the vehicle form, considering that the game features side-scrolling shooter levels. If they were going to go that route, why not make the auto-scrolling levels use the alternative form? Some driving stages a la Batman: The Video Game would have been cool to play, or they could have mimicked those found in Batman Returns on the very same Sega CD. Other companies were showing off the machine’s scaling abilities, and if Cliffhanger can produce a decent-looking scrolling stage, then there’s no excuse here.
That’s just the first sign of how run-of-the-mill Devastator is. The lack of inspiration can be noted in the gameplay as well. There are only three different weapons available, and two of them are nigh useless. Devastator always has a metallic whip that can be slung at enemies sideways and vertically, but effective use of it means getting up practically on top of foes. The weapon is especially useless during boss battles. The only other power-ups are energy bars and bonus points, which are good for racking up extra lives.
The stages are somewhat varied, though they all pretty much play the same. The shooter levels are actually the most enjoyable, but they are few and far between. Most of the game is played on the ground, walking around and slinging the whip at tanks, helicopters, and other robots, like some metallic Simon Belmont. The visuals for each level aren’t bad, and there are some nice graphical touches like waterfalls and parallax clouds. Things are detailed and colorful, and each stage has its own identity, something Wolf Team should have applied to things like weapons and enemies. A typically cool Wolf Team soundtrack completes the presentation. I can’t really fault Devastator’s graphics and sound, since it was as good as most action titles on the Sega CD at the time, which weren’t really all the many. I like the art style for most of the stages, and while nothing will convince people that they have to run out and get a Sega CD, what’s here most certainly gets the job done.
Along with the graphics and music, I really enjoyed the ’80s styled gameplay at first. My initial impression was of a game modeled in the mold of those classic, challenging arcade side-scrollers of yesterday, and it was kind of fun. As the game wore on though, I found that an action title released in 1993 had no business playing so much like games released more than a decade earlier and on inferior hardware. This is the Mega CD, damn it! I wanted more varied attacks and enemies, and I wanted levels that had more to them than a few platforms.
To its credit, Devstator does make a minimal effort to warrant release on CD. Aside from the grainy but plentiful anime cut scenes (filled with gratuitous T&A), the rocking soundtrack is of excellent quality and goes along nicely with the action, and some of the bosses have minor scaling effects. In fact, if all enemies were as cool as the level two boss, we might actually of had a great game here. Lamentably, aside from these few concessions, there isn’t anything here that couldn’t have been done on cartridge.
Ultimately, it’s no big loss that Devastator got left in Japan. It most certainly would have come off to many people as another “cartridge game with a CD soundtrack” that so filled the Sega CD’s library early on, and without the OAV to add some kind of background, no one would have really cared about the characters or their universe. The game presents a decent action title, but there’s little here to warrant more than a casual playthrough. Sega CD owners willing to go through the hassle of getting it to work on their machines might want to risk a few bucks, but others might be better off sticking to emulation to sate their curiosity.