If the Isolated Warrior in the title refers to hero Max Maverick and his solo journey, than buddy get in line. This shit has been going on for forty years. Isometric action games were never that big in America but were all the rage in Europe. The few that cropped up here usually ended up being curiosities. Isometric games are usually RPGs or puzzle games but never straight up action like this. Surprisingly Isolated Warrior pretty damn good for a game almost no one has heard of.
Even today Isolated Warrior still flies under the radar. No one ever speaks of it, there are hardly any videos and reviews are sparse. Many a great game has gone unnoticed but this, much like Dragon Fighter, is on another level. I rarely saw the game on store shelves or even to rent which probably contributes to its obscurity. I came upon it well after the NES had ran its race and still found it to be an excellent game with a few niggling issues.
Isolated Warrior uses an isometric perspective much like Zaxxon or Viewpoint on the Neo Geo. Although this is an action game it has the pacing and enemy waves of a shooter. Enemies almost always approach in waves and the priority is to line up your shots. It’s not easy thanks to the viewpoint and that is the point. While it can seem limiting at times it also allows for clever placement of enemies and obstacles.
Some might even say too clever. The one sticking point I have with Isolated Warrior is the inclusion of platforming. Platforming plus the isometric perspective rarely works out. Play Solstice or Landstalker and get back to me. If you don’t end up wanting to punch a wall you are a better man than me. Here it isn’t as bad but it is frustrating. You can somersault mid leap in order to gain more hang time which helps but judging distances and trying to move side to side is just a bad choice. Max can only move halfway up the screen before hitting an invisible wall. This also affects the platforming in a negative way. For the most part the majority of the platforming is confined to the end game and the vehicle stages. But had they left it out entirely the game would have been phenomenal.
Luckily the action makes up for it. Normally lining up attacks in an isometric game is a pain. Your primary weapons make that easier although each has its drawbacks. The two main weapons are the laser and wave beam with bombs serving as supplements. Both weapons can be powered up to twelve levels separately and switched at will. The wave beam is awful at first but at higher levels is almost indispensable. It produces five wide beams that almost always hit every enemy onscreen. It only lacks power. For that you’ll need the laser. At higher levels the beam is doubled and also fires backwards. But its thin attack is not ideal for dealing with fodder enemies. Switching back and forth is a big part of the game and what keeps the game lively despite the small weapon selection.
The focus is almost entirely on nonstop action. The moments where you aren’t being assaulted are few. It is kind of odd in a sense as the enemies appear in preset waves and the game auto scrolls slowly. But it is true. For added variety there are two vehicle stages, one with a jet pack and another on a speed bike. Both are lightning fast and will test your reflexes and are great diversions from the main game. Thanks to its viewpoint Isolated Warrior can be tough but for the dedicated players a final seventh stage will unlock if you can beat the first six without dying. Good luck with that.
Goofy main character aside Isolated Warrior is a beautiful game. Each environment is dripping with detail in a similar fashion to Castlevania or Low G Man. It makes sense as developer Kid made that game as well. The alien worlds pulse with life and wouldn’t look out of place in a Giger painting outside of the limited color palette. The massive bosses are both a technical marvel as well as head scratching in their design. They push the system a little too hard at times as there is heavy flickering at times. That is to be expected when you have as many as ten or eleven enemies onscreen with this system. Artistically this is up there with the system’s best in my opinion.
Isolated Warrior is a great game bordering on phenomenal status. Were it not for the awful platforming this would be an exceptional game. It is still pretty fun but you’ll have to deal with some jank to appreciate its good points. I still think it is worth it though.