Being a Sega Saturn collector is a pretty expensive business these days. With many titles going for hundreds of euros, there are a lot of games that are pretty much unfeasible for many people to get a hold of outside of emulation.
Thank goodness then that so many titles from the system have been ported over: classics such as Baroque, Layer Section, Panzer Dragoon, House of the Dead, and many more have found their way over to the Switch. One publisher that is responsible for many Saturn ports is City Connection, and they have teamed up with Taito to get more of their classics ported over.
And it’s a good job too, since not only is Elevator Action Returns one of the pricier games to buy for the Saturn, it’s also considered to be one of the best too Now many more people outside of Sega Saturn enthusiasts will be able to play this classic title without having to break the bank.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ELEVATOR ACTION!
The original Elevator Action game was a classic arcade title that had you controlling a rather slow moving spy as he ziplines to the top of a building and makes his way to the bottom via a series of elevators stealing data along the way. To make matters more complicated, the building was full of doors that enemies could come out of, so you had to react fast and shoot them before they can take you down. It was a simple formula, yet an addictive one.
So, how do you follow up on such a classic? By completely reworking that original premise to give it more of an action focus instead! It was a bold move to make such a huge tonal shift, but it’s one that ultimately paid off.
First of all, you’re no longer controlling a slow moving spy as he sneaks through different buildings searching for classified data; instead, you are given the choice of three [ridiculously named] special operatives to play as: Edie, Kart, and Jad. Each character has different stats and loadouts depending on your preferences, but you’ll find that most of them play fundamentally the same. All of the characters are equipped with a handgun and throwable explosive – the latter of which will likely be your deciding factor as to which character you prefer. Edie was my character of choice due to her faster firing rate and fire grenades that cause the ground to burn after exploding, but there’s not that much difference between them. There’s an option to play local co-op too should you wish, which is a nice touch even if it’s not exactly game-changing.
A major shift from the previous game is how your character controls, as they move around way faster than before. Instead of slowly plodding around the stages, your character moves at a brisk pace and can even run should you double tap the direction. It’s all very responsive and helps give the game the action game feel that it lacked before. You don’t have the ability to run and shoot at the same time, which is unfortunate, but that limitation also makes it easier to pivot on the spot when being attacked from both sides. Taito really nailed the change in gameplay style with the sequel, and I imagine fans had little reason to complain about the shift.
HIGHWAY TO ELEVATOR
Whilst elements of the game have been shifted, there are still many similarities to that original core concept. In fact, starting off the game seems more like a remake than a sequel as your chosen agent arrives at the top of a tall building (this time by helicopter) and as to work their way down collecting data from red doors and navigating a maze of elevators. Sound familiar? It’s all a trick, of course, as later in the stage the game pulls the rug out from under you and blows the building up before you have to make your escape.
This extravagant set-piece is what really sets the tone for the rest of the game. The game is no longer focused on slow-paced elevator navigation, and instead concentrates more on heavy weaponry and unexpected danger … as well as retaining those elevator mazes, of course. The second stage is when things really start to be shaken up as you’re dropped off in an airport and have to defuse the bombs scattered around. Whilst these bombs are still situated behind red doors, they’re far less frequent and often trigger a shift in the level too. You’ll work your way through the airport and even on a plane, but your main focus will be dealing on the enemies that get in your way. There are robotic spider drones, dudes on jetpacks, and more. You never quite know what to expect next. There are even security cameras that can trigger an alarm that sends many enemies to your position, but of course shooting out those cameras will help make your journey far less hectic.
Even though the game originated in the arcades, it’s actually not as brutal as you might expect. For starters, there are multiple difficulty options to choose from for a slightly more relaxed time in addition to the extra quality of life stuff added to this modern console release. Unlimited lives, continues, save states and rewind are al the standard additions that you would expect; however, the game also adds some additional button mapping that wasn’t available on the original that allows you to throw grenades with a simple button press, and even a Slow Mode too. The Slow Mode makes things slow down for a while to aid those with slower reflexes, and it’s a nice addition that City Connection have started including with all their releases. Sure, it’s more suited to shmups and isn’t of much use here… but it’s a nice addition regardless.
Whilst these small tweaks are nice, a lot of the tweaks are mainly to increase accessibility for a modern audience. There’s no reworked visuals or remastered soundtrack – but then the game doesn’t really need it wither. The game was breathtakingly beautiful 30 years ago with its amazing spritework and action-packed OST, and it still holds up now as much as it ever did. Would it have been nice to have a fancier version for this rerelease? Sure. However, considering this is a title most people didn’t have a chance to play, I doubt it’d be a major deal-breaker either. The game is still a fantastic experience for veterans and newcomers alike and easily holds its own against modern retro-throwbacks.
Elevator Action Returns is an arcade classic and this port really does the game justice. With numerous accessibility features and wonderful visuals that still hold up well, it’s a great game for both fans of the original release and newcomers alike. It may not be the longest title due to its arcade origins, but the sheer replayability and inclusion of the first game makes it perfect to play whenever you fancy a bit of elevator-based action.