Last Alert

The Turbo Grafx-16 had very little success when it came to side scrolling action games.  While Genesis owners got to enjoy Gunstar Heroes and Contra Hard Corps they were left with…Bloody Wolf and Final Zone 2.  I like Bloody Wolf as much as the next man but there really is no comparison.  One of the more interesting releases for the system is Last Alert, a game that has attained a level of notoriety most games would kill for.  However not all press is good press and in this case the attention the game receives is because of its terrible voice acting and not the quality of the game itself.

Most of the attention Last Alert receives is due to its horrendous English dub and it is completely warranted.  The dub is that bad.  However the game is far more interesting than your typical action shooter and a lot better than it is given credit for.  It has its share of problems but I enjoyed the time I spent with it and recommend it to Turbo CD owners.

That being said the story is a pastiche of nearly every big dumb action movie trope from the 80s.  Guy Kazama is the best commando in America.  His services will be needed to defeat the Force Project, a group of dictators who declare war on the world.  These jokers hit every cliché: Mr. Lee runs the Hong Kong mafia, Colonel Kadat is a South African warlord, Dr. Garcia is a mad scientist from Russia, and Chairman Steve is a corrupt politician and a generic white guy.  It’s heavily inspired by Commando but even throwwwwwwwws in a nod to Enter the Dragon as you enter a martial arts tournament in China and sneak around Mr. Lee’s island in order to take him down. At least they don’t shy away from it. 

At its core this is a simple run and gun shooter along the lines of Bloody Wolf.  However in terms of gameplay it is much deeper than that.  Unlike the vast majority of titles in the genre there is an experience system and leveling up.  Leveling up increases your life bar and gives you a new rank, up to a maximum of nineteen.  It gives a purpose to killing faceless soldiers in droves and is near perfectly balanced.  At no point will you ever have to grind and by the end of the game you will reach the last rank naturally.  That’s something you can’t say about most RPGs.  More important than increased health is the weapons your rank gives access to.

At set levels you’ll gain access to a new weapon and can switch at any time.  These are a submachine gun, the M16 Armalite with its increased radius, a grenade launcher that shreds bosses and the game breaking M60 Heavy Machine Gun. Last is a missile launcher that actually isn’t very good considering you won’t get it until close to the end.  These are supplemented by few special weapons such as a flamethrower (?), grenades, shuriken and two options that add to your firepower and act as a shield.  The controls are smooth, allowing you to aim in every direction and strafe in a second. 

At twenty-three levels this is one of the longer action games for its time.  Despite its length the game does a good job of injecting some variety into its mission structure.  Levels are divided into three types: red denotes sneaking missions that task you with sneaking into an area.  If you use anything other than the pistol more enemies will spawn.  Blue, which are standard get to the end and fight a boss, and yellow, which feature specific objectives.  At various points you’ll also be able to tackle them in any order you choose.  As much as I’ve made fun of the story its international coalition of bad guys also add a great deal of variety in settings and enemies.  Although there are a large number of levels most are short and made even briefer by the lacking difficulty.

It certainly tries to be intense but in the end the Last Alert is incredibly easy.  In the early levels there are just enough enemies to level up quickly.  By the time things kick up a notch you will more than likely have a lengthy life bar and access to the M16 Armalite.  This beast is game breaking as its three-way wide shot covers much of the screen, killing enemies before they spawn.  Further in you’ll get the M60 Heavy Machine Gun, the Last Alert version of the spread gun which is even more broken.  Because the game is so balanced with experience you are overpowered for the length of the entire campaign.  Even the bosses stand little chance against a combination of the grenade launcher and flamethrower.  Despite its considerable length you’ll blaze through it pretty quickly.

It’s a good thing the gameplay is solid as Last Alert isn’t much to look at.  In fact it looks a little too similar to Final Zone II for comfort.  Both games sport a similar theme and environments although LA is more diverse.  The bulk of the graphics budget probably went into the frequent cutscenes which appear every three or four levels.  Although they aren’t animated they do move the story forward and serve as a reward for your progress.

I would say the majority of the game’s overall budget probably went into its extensive voice acting and boy let me tell you, this is in a league of its own in terms of its dreadfulness.  It’s not a question of what went wrong, it’s more like what didn’t.  Every single possible flaw with an English dub is present, from inappropriate accents (they really went there with Mr. Lee), mispronunciation, stilted dialogue, bad lip flapping, to a limited pool of actors playing multiple roles, it is all here.  This is in stark contrast to its Japanese counterpart which basically used the voice cast from Fist of the North Star to great effect.  Last Alert might not be the worst dub of all time (let me introduce you to a little game called Chaos War) but it is certainly in the running.  Damn shame too as the music is fantastic.

In Closing

Behind its…questionable production lies a pretty good shooter, one that is actually worth playing.  If nothing else the English dub really needs to be heard because it hits new lows in terms of just how awful it gets and is entertaining on its own.  Unfortunately the game has become pretty expensive and rare and while I do recommend it that is only at a cheap price.

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