Genre: Action Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1986
Upon first inspecting Action Fighter’s box, you’ll probably notice that the game just screams “generic” with one of the most pointless and boring covers ever seen, something that was all too common all across the board when it came to Sega Master System releases. Anyone who picks this game up now, not having previously played it, will wonder just what the heck it’s about. Those who grew up in the ’80s (or who grew up in the arcades) will probably be happy to know that this is Sega’s answer to Spy Hunter, and it’s a greatly enhanced take on that game.
Sega must have been hurting for brand recognition at the time of Action Fighter’s release. The back of the box says, “Take the motorcycle from Hang-On, equip it with hi-tech weaponry, and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car and you’ve got Action Fighter!” Was Hang-On that well known at the time, or did Sega become aware of just how nondescript its cover art truly was?
When you start the game up you can select one or two players, input your name or a cheat code (more on cheat codes later), and get started. Your goal is to race down the streets and avoid crashing or being destroyed by enemies or gunfire. Along the way, you have to collect the letters A-F. Once you’ve collected D then your car will transform into a car with dual fire. Eventually, there will be a truck that says “Sega” on it which you can drive into to upgrade your firepower. Once you’ve zigzagged down the roads long enough and finally collected the letters E and F, you’ll transform into a flying car and will take off into the skies and start a vertically-scrolling shooter stage that plays almost identically to Xevious where you can shoot flying enemies or drop bombs on land-based foes. This area has its power-up icons that can be collected like firepower and speed-ups. Once you’ve made it far enough, you’ll encounter the boss-like enemies shown at the beginning of each stage.
There are a total of five grueling stages in the game and some of the bosses become truly difficult to defeat. Even regular enemies can gang up on you and kill you in a hurry. This is probably one of the hardest Sega Master System games I’ve ever played, and I had to resort to cheat codes to finish it (all of which can be input in the name entry screen). When all was said and done, it didn’t feel like it was worth it since the stages are too repetitive. Some of them start you in a flying section and then have you land and transform into the car just to have you transform right back into a plane again. It all felt like added ways to prolong the length of the game. Action Fighter took me about thirty minutes to finish, but that felt too long by the time I was done. I would never want to spend the time needed to master it without cheat codes.
I want to mention the beginning of this review again while I talk about the graphics and music. Remember when I said that Action Fighter just screams “generic?” The graphics and music are a big part of why I said that. Sega missed the feel completely when it based this so heavily on Spy Hunter. That game had a catchy theme and fitting graphics and color, but this time around the music is just annoying at best. Believe me when I say that not even a single tune is even close to catchy. The music honestly got annoying to listen to, and I needed to turn the volume down and play some music on iTunes while I finished my playthrough.
The visuals don’t make up for the lackluster audio. The graphics don’t even come close to pushing the system in the least, and the game is too gaudy and bright. The levels take about six minutes each to complete, and that gives you way too much time to see the backgrounds after they’ve repeated themselves for about the 100th time. Even between stages, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much more than minimal background changes. There is also a lot of flicker on the lower part of the screen when you’re in the sky areas, and many times I got killed and never even saw anything hit me. Most of the enemy bullets are almost the same color as the clouds, making the bullets hard to see. There are also areas of the screen where your ship will disappear in the clouds, making it annoying when you get killed and couldn’t tell what was even happening.
Is Action Fighter a bad game at heart? No. It’s just that it’s too generic and repetitive to recommend, which is why it’s probably largely forgotten when Sega Master System discussions are had. It is pretty cheap to buy, so it’s worth grabbing if you find it. It’s enjoyable for about fifteen minutes or a stage or two, but that’s about all it has to offer. If you want my recommendation though, I’d find a way to play Spy Hunter or another vertical shooter like Bomber Raid or Power Strike, as all of those are more exciting options than Action Fighter.
SCORE: 5 out of 10