Genre: Platformer Developer: Bitmap Bros. Publisher: Spectrum Holobyte Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
1993 was the year that Soldiers of Fortune hit the Genesis, the same year that it made its way to the SNES. Originally an Amiga release made by the well-known Bitmap Brothers, the question was if it could keep what it had on the Amiga as it made its translation. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are here to find out today.
The plot of Soldiers of Fortune is one that is actually a little bit more thought out than others, but not much. The Chaos Engine (which was also the name of Soldiers of Fortune on the Mega Drive) was created during a strange time as a space experiment in the 19th century by Baron Fortescue, a genius inventor. Of course, even though the machine was primitive, it became more powerful and then rebelled against its creator, like all powerful machines created by man do. Then, it began to transform the world and all the creatures within it, be they animal or human, into super powerful killing machines.
That’s where the good guys come in. They’re prepared to save the world, but not for free. No, these heroes are out for the money, plain and simple, and that fact alone makes the plot a little more believable then most in the genre. They aren’t doing it for the good of the world, they’re doing it for the good of their bank accounts and it shows in the wacky group of people from which you get to choose. Apart from that little twist, however, the game’s plot is not too dissimilar from others of the genre, as you still have to save the world against innumerable odds from an overly powerful enemy, in this case, a machine.
The six playable characters are incredibly diverse and each one has his own strengths, weaknesses and more importantly, cost. From a distance, there appear to be three types of characters: the two slow and powerful characters, with a lot of hit points and low AI (if one of them is a computer player); the average characters with no underlying strengths or weaknesses, and finally, the fast, lightly armed characters with low hit points and very intelligent AI. All of the characters also have special abilities that they can use when they acquire special power potions. The slower characters only have two special power slots, the average ones get three while the fast characters get a whooping four special powers by the end of the game!
Even more subtle is the different costs of each character. With each one costing a different amount of money to hire, left over money carries over to the first time you get to re-equip them, giving an added edge to the less powerful characters in terms of brute strength. And this is not including the fact that each character has his own complete personality; each one has a unique appearance, which seriously adds to the game, making each vastly different from the others. The thug, for instance, truly does look brutish as he moves and fires, while the gentleman walks and acts with such poise and grace that he truly lives up to his name. And all this subtle complexity and you haven’t even begun the game yet!
At first, Soldiers of Fortune seems rather simple, yet the gameplay is so deep. All that is required of every level is to activate the four nodes and then travel to the next level through the exit. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s where you’re wrong. The Bitmap Brothers do not disappoint in this game and ensure that the journey through each level is challenging. Monsters of varying sizes and strengths are the primary opposition, and they come in different varieties. It is not uncommon for you to kill a weak version of one that takes a single hit, only to encounter a faster, stronger version that tries to collide with you and hurt you. The monsters are also able to surprise you, be it from appearing in holes in the wall or even simply being teleported right into the middle of the action, quickly turning an empty room into a maelstrom of trouble.
Each of the four world has four levels, with most monsters only spanning two of the levels in each one. Each world is diverse from the others, having a different look and feel as well as new and more powerful monsters and different music. Nearly all of the levels have multiple pathways that one can take, and many of those paths lead to alternate exits, leading you to starting at different points in the next level, often either with more goodies or more monsters. There is only one boss, The Chaos Engine itself, but that is forgivable as some of the encounters are so difficult that they could very well be bosses in their own right (curse you, spider nests!).
Every two levels, the money that the player has accumulated can be spent on upgrading his character. Health can be bought, as well as weapon power-ups, uses of special powers, and new special powers. You can also upgrade your skill, increasing your health limit and even purchase speed upgrades. Lastly, you are also able to purchase extra lives, although they are costly and it is better you spend your cash on upgrades instead, as extra lives can be found by the resourceful and are given out every 5,000 points you score.
The two-player mode in Soldiers of Fortune is wonderful. The gameplay is rich and even more entertaining, and the two human players must work together to smash through the enemies and delegating the sharing of special power potions, weapon power-ups, and other desirable items while also competing against one another to earn the most money and thus be able to afford more upgrades. It creates an air of healthy competition and, as we all know, competition breeds excellence. While some may object, I believe that not including a split-screen mode was a wise move as it meant that the two players are made to work together and the screen isn’t squashed up into smaller segments where all the action wouldn’t be shown. Trust me, the screen will become hectic and riddled with firepower at times.
If you don’t have a friend to play with, you can select a computer-controlled character and, for an early game, I am amazed at the computer player’s A.I. Even the supposedly stupid characters are smart, as they kill creatures carefully and don’t run into enemy fire or monsters. They also pick up things they need, like food and the various power ups and upgrades, yet don’t steal all the money. Sure, they don’t do all the killing for you, but would you really want them to lay waste to the entire level and leave you without some fun yourself? You are even able to upgrade the A.I. of the computer player in the buying section every two levels so you can improve them even further.
The game was a port of an Amiga game and so consequently, some of the crisp graphics richness of the original was lost in translation. I am pleased to say, however, that the graphical loss was minimal. The portrait stills are sort of grainy, and some parts of the game are not as defined and rich in colours, but the difference is not one you notice easily. It would take someone who played the Amiga version a lot to notice the difference. The game is still rich in graphical content and it still looks good even now.
Also, to my delight, the port was also complete in terms of gameplay; absolutely nothing from the Amiga game was left out. All the levels are still there, as are the special powers and each world’s content. Barring the slight graphics downgrade, the game made the jump to the Genesis intact. Even the controls managed to endure, and they are just as tight on the genesis controller as they were on any Amiga joypad or the keyboard.
The music is both memorable and very well suited. Each world has its own music that never grates on you as you play, nor does it blast out at high volume and deafen you. Each tune is well composed and there is none of the tinny sound to it that you sometimes find on other games. The sound effects are totally unchanged from the Amiga version and are as crisp and well suited as ever. The explosions sound like explosions, which is always a nice thing that I have seen done so very wrong on occasion. The voices in the game made the translation too and are unchanged, apart from a very small amount of distortion.
Put simply, Soldiers of Fortune rocks. When one is reduced to combing a game with a fine-tooth comb for any flaws, you simply have to stop and look at what you have; Wonderful gameplay, tremendous depth in both characters and levels, all topped off with great presentation. It is a blast to play with another friend, and it is still lots of fun with a computer. The game is not that hard to get hold of and it shouldn’t cost you much.
SCORE: 9 out of 10