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Death Duel (Genesis)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
2.3
MobyScore
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Written by  :  ResidentHazard (3252)
Written on  :  Sep 16, 2010
Rating  :  1.67 Stars1.67 Stars1.67 Stars1.67 Stars1.67 Stars

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Summary

Turn you into maggot fodder!

The Good

Death Duel is a strange, apparently little-known Genesis title. Amazingly, one of the hallmarks of the title is a surprising amount of violence and gore. Why is that surprising, you ask? Not only does this totally predate titles like Doom and Mortal Kombat, but it predates the ESRB—and even Sega’s own self-made rating system. The box features a warning that it’s “not intended for anyone younger than 13” if you can believe that. While I’m sure it’s unlikely this is the first instance of some kind of warning on a video game, this is likely to be one of the very first instances of it on a console (non-PC) game.

Is it violent? Eh, sure. Especially in the first stage. But there’s a little more to that “13 and above” warning—including some generally shocking dialog.

The story is essentially as follows: You are some kind of super awesome soldier dude in some galactic science fiction future. You operate a giant killer robot and it’s your job to “duel” with evil alien opponents to the “death.” Mostly, in the form of blasting the enemy opponent’s body parts off with various guns until it dies.

The focus is setting up the game as something cross between a First-Person Shooter and a Rail Shooter. The player can’t really move anywhere, except to scroll (or strafe if you prefer) to the left and right while moving a targeting cursor about the screen to shoot a bad guy’s limbs off. That’s the basic gameplay premise here. Each stage is set up to fight one alien character at a time, and the A, B, and C buttons can each have different weapons assigned. Weapons can be purchased between stages (or as a last hurrah when the player is down to their last life) from a weapons dealer. There is also a shooting gallery between stages to both earn money and to “qualify” for the next fight (apparently).

The mutilation-centric gameplay is good for a chuckle. Especially in the first stage, where bloody limbs must be blasted off a dragon. Yes, the first alien character is a dragon. Shoot the limbs off, blood spurts out.

The graphics are big and generally colorful on the characters. The mutilation theme is entertaining to an extent. There is an introduction screen prior to each fight to prepare the player for the upcoming fight, and enemy character designs aren’t half bad. A dragon, a robot scorpion, a Cyclops, and so forth. The science fiction design and environments aren’t too shabby.

Being able to upgrade weapons between bouts is a nice feature, and the shooting gallery breaks up the gameplay, but…

The Bad

The shooting gallery is pretty mundane, featuring small alien critters that are shot for points and money. Maybe I’m shooting the wrong ones, but I never seem to make enough money in this to be of any value when I get to the weapons shop.

Speaking of the weapons shop, on the one hand it’s cool to have such a wide variety of weapons, and the ability to purchase a weapon up to three times for whichever button it’s assigned to is nice. On the other hand, they’re all far too expensive and there’s no in-game description of any of them aside from the name. I suppose there could be some depth and strategy here, if only there was a solid way of knowing what the weapons do and which are best used against the next enemy. Sure, there’s the info screen prior to each fight, but without some kind of real weapon descriptions or a good way to make money, the whole thing feels neutered or unfinished. There’s too much guesswork, and it’s frustrating as hell to find that purchased weapons have next to no effect on the current enemy.

You can carry three different weapons, purchased up to three times each (if the player can afford it), but even five or six battles into the game, any “good” weapons (and I’m assuming this based on price because I could almost never afford them) are still prohibitively expensive. You can buy four machine gun “upgrades” or one generally useless grenade launcher with a whopping two rounds.

The majority of my fights do not end with success over my rival—they ended with weapons running out of ammunition or because time ran out.

That’s right, this game is strictly timed. It’s already fairly difficult to aim and shoot with any real precision because the controls are fairly sluggish and enemies dodge with annoying agility (when they’re not cowering behind a wall), and to suddenly add a frantic nuisance by burying this with an annoying time limit is frustrating and maddening. I loathe time limits in video games. I generally view it as an extremely cheap way to add “challenge” to a game. And that’s exactly what it is here. Especially when the enemy I’m fighting wastes considerable time hiding behind a damn wall where I either can’t hurt it, or I have to waste precious ammunition trying to shoot through the wall. If that isn’t annoying enough—and trust me, it’s plenty annoying—there’s a fundamental flaw in the gameplay where the enemy character will move to the far left or right side of the field--and actually out of range of the player’s targeting reticule!! The targeting cursor just stops at a predefined limit to the extreme left or right of the stage, but the enemy character can continue moving beyond that point--and it can continue shooting at you the whole time is hides on the periphery!

On top of this, regular gameplay will often drive the enemy character to continue moving left or right as it dodges, and the player moves the reticule to shoot, and it continues to dodge in the same direction until it reaches the edge of the screen. Then, the only option is to scroll away and wait out the alien opponent, and hope that it returns to an area where it can be shot. Now, if the player is truly accurate—and any amount of accuracy here is bound to be based on luck—the legs can be removed from the enemy preventing it from getting away. Here’s the catch—typically, both legs need to be removed—and sometimes, they actually grow back. Then again, if the enemy can fly, you have to remove more than legs to immobilize it.

While there’s a damage bar (rather than a life bar) for the player and the opponent, there is often little clue whether or not certain weapons are doing any damage. Affordable weapons do next to no damage. Expensive weapons may do obvious damage, but their accuracy and success rate is shockingly low.

Damage the player receives during bouts carries over to the next battle, unless there is somehow enough money to, both purchase new weapons and repair damage to the player’s robot. Typically, it’s one or the other with as tight as money tends to be—and I always chose weapons. No way to effect repairs during the battles, but there wouldn’t be any time any way.

Music and sound effects are generally forgettable.

While the opponent character can flat-out waste considerable time hiding behind walls, there is no such protection allotted for the player. What that means is that the only way to not be hit by an incoming attack is to hopefully move to the left or right out of the way. The player is, essentially, just standing out in the open.

The Bottom Line

Death Duel is certainly unique. It’s like a gimped First-Person Shooter, or a rail shooter with more options and some movement. While there is this inkling of strategy and depth based around purchasing weapons and targeting specific body parts of the alien opponents, it’s just not fleshed out enough. Money is too limited, weapons are too expensive, and targeting reticule movement is too slow. The biggest offenders are the truly aggravating time limit and the basic flaw that enemies can spend considerable time outside the weapons range of the player.

The gameplay is too much trial-and-error and not enough real strategy. And this is no good with limited continues (up to five as I recall) and limited time. Now, each time I played, I got a little further than the time before meaning that improvement was possible, but since damage continues to build and money generally remains tight, the game feels like playing slots in a casino. Eventually, the house will win because, despite any momentary success, there is still continued loss. Here the loss occurs in damage, continues, money and weapons as opposed to just money and peace of mind, like in a casino.

And that’s how Death Duel feels. Like, for all my successes, the house is still winning.

Finally, the game features a “sexy girl” that comes onscreen and says something racy prior to each bout along the lines of “kick his asteroids” or “turn him into maggot fodder.” I’m not sure what to think about this. It is interesting and she seems to have a lot of phrases (and it’s clearly cold where ever she is, if you follow what I’m saying) and it adds nothing to the gameplay. What it does add to is the personality of the game, which isn’t bad. The phrases are good for a chuckle now and then—in a cheesy sort of way, but they’re also surprisingly racy half the time.

I learned of this game through an online list of violent games “no one is playing” and snagged it pretty cheap with it’s case. There are momentary fun elements, and while the violence makes up the bulk of the game, the gore—not so much. Of the characters I worked through, only the dragon (the first enemy) featured any real noticeable blood splatter. It can be fairly fun, but it’s mostly bogged down by some ill-fitting design choices or utterly broken parts—like the enemy being able to move out of range. I would really only recommend this to collectors.