To get the most out of the Sega Saturn you had to be a fan of import gaming. There were plenty of great releases but the vast majority of the truly great games were left in Japan, where the system was more successful. There the Saturn was popular enough to garner ports of PlayStation classics such as Suikoden and Symphony of the Night. Elevator Action Returns was one of the system’s most popular imports as it was entirely in English to begin with. That the game was also fantastic was a huge bonus as well, taking everything the original tried to do and making it even better. This one is definitely worth tracking down and one of my favorite titles for the system.
Even I am shocked at just how much I like Elevator Action Returns. I was not a fan of the original; by the time the NES port was released it really showed its age. But the concept behind the game was pretty cool. Elevator Action Returns was released in arcades in 1994 but I doubt many had the chance to play it. Over here fighting games were number 1 and dominated arcades. However its Saturn release a few years later gave many a chance to sample its greatness. Around the message boards I frequented at the time the game seemed to be an import favorite. That gave me the courage to take a chance on it and I was rewarded. Action game fans would do well to seek this out.
Unlike the first game you have a choice between three characters with each possessing unique traits and weapons. You’ll also be surprised to learn that they don’t fit the generic stereotype of slow but strong big guy, weak but fast girl, etc. Kart Bradfield moves the fastest and can jump the farthest. Edie Burret can hold the most bullets and has the quickest firing speed. Her fire bomb subweapon is grossly overpowered making her my go to character of choice. Jad the Taff (what a stupid name) does fit the slow/powerful archetype but it works in his favor. He can clothesline enemies by running into them and his desert eagle has some kick.
The differences between characters are significant and change how you approach the game, making it worthwhile to play with each. Playing as Edie is more methodical since she takes more damage than the other two and her Beretta lacks power. But her rapid firing speed and fire bombs are indispensable in the many scenarios where a horde of enemies spawn in succession. Kart is all about speed and it is amazing just how fast you can blitz through a level once you have learned its layout. Playing as Jad was my least favorite as his type of character has never been my speed outside of Streets of Rage 2. Taito went to great lengths to increase the game’s pacing overall so to see it slowed down that much is just painful.
While having a trio of agents is nice the main area with the most improvement is the level design. The title may infer the entire game takes place in stuffy buildings and if this were the original that would be true. Here each of the game’s six missions is a different locale such as an airport terminal, an apartment complex and even a construction site. Each location is unique and has specific challenges endemic to the area. The apartment complex features many cramped corridors and elevators packed into a tight space, making each bomb door a more hectic challenge to reach.
There are numerous little intricacies and interactive elements that that add depth. These aren’t apparent at first such as shooting out lights to blind enemies or igniting oil barrels to torch an incoming group of bad guys. But they are so satisfying to execute and help rack up points. Speaking of enemies there is a larger roster to contend with and each has a specific behavior. The guys in trench coats have a quick trigger finger while dogs take a moment before attacking. The little guys in bio hazard gear are more resilient while riot police pose the largest threat. Enemy placement is deliberate and the bastards will even use elevators to pursue you! It’s intense to say the least. Combined with the fluid controls regardless of character Elevator Action Returns is an absolute blast. It epitomizes the arcade manifesto of easy to pick up but tough to master.
What a great game. Taito did everything in creating this sequel and made one of the best action titles for the system. While the Saturn version is arcade perfect it’s probably cheaper to buy the Taito Legends collection for PS2, Xbox, or PC. They are dirt cheap plus you get a gaggle of great games alongside this little gem.