Genre: Action Developer: Malibu Int. Publisher: Sony Imagesoft Players: 1 Released: 1993
I like playing seasonally appropriate games. Maybe it’s because my Sega and all the other systems are in my basement, but I love playing hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. Sometimes, I like to pull out games that I bought on spending binges in college that I didn’t even remember even owning and that are in that bottom corner of the bookcase. You know, the one that the light of the room doesn’t cover, that you have no connection to and haven’t seen the connected movie. Even though I have a strong love of Sylvester Stallone, I still hadn’t seen or played Cliffhanger. Until now.
Well, to be honest, I did know of Sony/ImageSoft’s line of movie-based games such as the Dracula port for Sega CD that found its way into the Angry Video Game Nerd review, and my blood pressure skyrocketed when it came up on the screen. What I found was actually a basic brawler that wasn’t too bad but didn’t add anything too original to the genre. LIKE THE MOVIE. Is there anything quotable or too memorable from the movie? I’ve never heard anything! The poster is cool. The effects are hilariously bad in spots, and you can tell that Sly is really climbing in some of the panning shots. But, John Lithgow, I love you, but your British accent in this movie is a joke.
Anyways, Cliffhanger’s title screen is not terribly colorful or descriptive. I certainly have played games with better title screens. I think a few more colors on the screen would have done a lot of justice to it. How about the helicopter from the movie flying by in the distance? The music is okay, and you get an option to choose how many lives you want. Is that a serious question? I’m going to take the maximum every time. I wonder if this was the game’s halfhearted attempt at a difficulty level. I don’t know.
Cliffhanger takes place at about 15-20 minutes into the movie, (spoiler) right after Gabe (Stallone) is sobbing and is upset for failing to save his sidekick’s wife, who was climbing a precipice and needed a helicopter to pick them up off the edge. The cut scenes in the game aren’t bad, but I do feel that the text moves across a little TOO fast for my tastes. They don’t even explain who Hal is! Who is Hal if I haven’t seen the movie? The game does give you an objective: get the money before the bad guys do and reach the top of the cliff to save your sidekick (Hal).
The game is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up, a genre that I generally enjoy very much. However, it does add a few things to the genre that I don’t believe we’ve seen in many or even maybe any brawlers on the Genesis, such as mountain climbing and being chased by an avalanche. Things start off with a generic background, which you had better get used to because it is pretty much 95% of the background used in the game. I would have preferred a few more colors, but I know it’s a winter game. Later on it has some color to it, but I feel like I need to put on my big Carhartt jacket when I play this. Well, I guess that’s one thing that’s right!
Control wise, the game is fine. A is punch, B is kick and C is jump and they are all fairly fluid and offer no mind-boggling problems that you might think would plague a movie-based title. The controller does hide some secret “moves” that allow you to get a leg up on the bad guys, such as double tapping the D-pad to dash in a certain direction (especially useful against the Sagat-looking boss) and the difference between long pressing B and tapping B. Jump-kicking is especially useful against the bosses who can move faster than you. Blocking is not necessarily a key move or even necessary at all until you get to the later bosses that require doing that to survive. I feel this game would have benefited BIG TIME from a six-button control, but it does pack a lot into the three buttons. The mountain climbing is easy. It’s one of those games that you can visualize as a grid, climbing up space by space, avoiding the eight directions of fire raining down on you.
One of the few things I do have against Cliffhanger is the rather bland enemy selection. You have Steven Seagal in a green parka and camo pants, big knife guy who jumps at you, Steven Seagal shooting you on the cliff in eight directions (making climbing kind of mundane when you can easily avoid them, but it does get difficult near the end of the game), big fat guy kind of like the clown dude from Streets of Rage that throws the sticks of dynamite (sans dynamite in this game), guy with an Uzi, and karate guy who can kick and run fast. Bleh, you could do better, but it’s not horrible. I’m not going to get too upset. There are a decent number of different henchmen who act like level bosses in I guess would be their appropriate time in the movie.
Hey, the game is staying with the movie! +1! Cut scenes are spread a decent amount apart in Cliffhanger and stay consistent. They kind of pop-up like comic book panels. Fires are your favorite things in as they replenish your health and give you a short reprieve. Too bad there aren’t any little elves to stomp on for items. Or an axe. Anyways, weapons are key in this game. If you can stay alive and keep your weapon, you will have no problem with pretty much any enemy. Once you punch knife guy out, grab his knife and just slam the A button. You’re nearly unbeatable.
There’s also an Uzi 9mm with limited ammo available from some guys. If you see one of those guys, it’s imperative to take care of him immediately because they have unlimited ammo and can inflict heavy damage. If you get cornered by two guys or face a boss that is packing an Uzi nine millimeter, jump kicking will take care of most of them. Just get that gun as soon as possible to ensure survival.
The BIGGEST thing I can’t stand about this game is the uneven difficulty. And it really all happens on one level. The difficulty is more warped than a two by four in a sauna. You’ll go through the first few screens of baddies and a screen or two of climbing then BAM! You’re being chased by an avalanche and have three seconds to react. After you get over the shock of dying immediately, basically you have to run without running into a drift or a log. It is difficult, but not extremely difficult. Depending on where on the screen you are when you run into a log or a drift, you will have one to three chances to get back up before the avalanche engulfs you. Thank God that you can move around in midair; it is the only thing that saved me! It’s something that chews through your lives, but I am just not happy with it because it’s a complete surprise and gives you no chance to get ready.
Other than that, the chase portion of the game pops up at one other part, but you’ll be ready for it if you can get past the first one. Jumping is fluid, but I don’t like how some of the cliffs require near pixel perfect jumping. The HUD is kind of bland. It just shows score, health/lives remaining and the health of the bad guy. I do like how Cliffhanger stays true to itself, however. It genuinely feels like you are climbing up and around a mountain throughout the game, but it does sometimes feel like you’re just grinding through levels to get to the boss.
This is one of those “on one hand… but on the other hand…” games that won’t be stuck in your Genesis when friends come over or will be anything you will remember to talk about in the genre. But it isn’t bad, not really bad at all. I kind of liked it. I was just a little bummed about the blandness of the color palette of all things and the lack of certain enemies. But I was expecting a whole lot worse that what I ended up getting, so I was somewhat happily surprised. But, this game, like the movie, will not leave you with any sense of remembering what it was like much later in the future.
SCORE: 5 out of 10