Don't come running.
This time I decided to structure the review differently from what I did in the few other reviews I contributed to MobyGames. I'll follow the structure some reviewers use, writing in the "Good" and "Bad" fields only a list of highlighted good and bad features, putting the actual review in the Bottom Line section. So here's what I like about this game:
- The graphics and music are OK
- Two possible endings
- Choosing not to pick up some power ups may lead you to a better way of beating stages, adding some "strategy" to the gameplay
- Complete lack of continuity/consistency story-wise
- Uninspired level design
- Bad controls
- Too few themes make the music repetitive
The Bottom Line
Running Battle's story is your regular vengeance plot: Sgt. Brody thought it would be a great idea to fight the hypnotist M. and his "Soldiers of the Darkness" alone, only to end up dying at the edge of the Dark Zone, a city which used to be like many others until M. took over. His partner, Gray, was told about it too late to help his friend, and after finding his corpse, decided to avenge him. The intro says Brody was at the top of his class at the National Police Association Academy, so it makes you wonder why Gray would have any more success than his partner...
Anyway, with this background story you would expect some sort of consistency with the kind of enemies and bosses you would find along the game, but that's not what you find. You start running around Dark Zone streets, beating up the so called "Soldiers of the Darkness". The game designers have probably some prejudice against bearded men, because all regular soldiers are bearded guys in military suits. After entering the bad guys hideout, which looks like some sort of factory, and beating lots of those bearded guys, you enter the room of the first boss. What a surprise it was to realize I was in a room which looked a lot like an old ship and my first boss was a pirate named Captain Brass! After beating Captain Brass, you enter stage two, which is the same factory-like environment you found in the previous stage. But again, once you reach the second boss, you're magically transported to an old-west saloon to fight a cowboy named Killer the Kid. The same happens with the third boss, Samurai Man (spelled Samrai Man), in a Japanese-themed room. The stage after that is called ESP Training Room, and since the main villain is supposed to be a hypnotist, maybe all those bosses are illusions created by him; also, the boss at this stage is a guy called Miracle Man (spelled Milacle Man), whose only performed miracle is to attack removing bricks from the wall and throwing them at you using telekinesis, so it would also fit with the whole "mind tricks" theory.
This lack of continuity/consistency isn't helped by the level design, which is really uninspired. From the second level on, all you'll see are the same factory-like backgrounds and enemies, with only colors swaps. Of course, some new things are added, like stationary guns and laser shooting machines, but the déjà vu is inevitable. Also, some things look really out of place, like this only guy who comes flying over some sort of surfboard and jumps to attack you in stage two. This only happens once in the game, so it makes you wonder why the programmers bothered to include him. The lack of inspiration is so big that the last stage, the aforementioned "ESP Training Room", consists in three almost empty rooms, with no enemies at all, separated by double doors. All you have to do to reach the end of the stage is to run from left to right and enter the doors.
Something you'd wish from a beat'em up is to have reliable and precise controls; Running Battle fails at that too. During the stages, sometimes you'll have to jump over gaps on the floor. I felt really cheated when I discovered that the game randomly decides how far you'll jump every time you press the jump button. Seriously, sometimes you jump across almost half the screen, other times you'll barely reach the other side of the gap jumping from the edge of one side, and there's nothing you can do to control it. Thankfully you don't die instantly from falling, you will just lose 5 health points, and that will probably teach you right from the start not to trust your jumping skills.
Other thing about the controls is the lack of variety when it comes to gameplay. Even if you can punch, punch while crouching, high-kick and jump-kick, most of the time you'll just be jump-kicking or crouch-punching. Punching or high-kicking have very specific uses when destroying stationary guns or attacking the last boss. Also, once you collect a weapon you won't ever want to use your melee attacks again. I guess that is why you lose your weapons every time you enter a boss fight (this is another of those continuity issues I've complained about: what, do they search you before you enter the boss room?). Even the most fun attack in the game, the jump-kick, which can be done indefinitely as long as there is an enemy under your feet, is only used while you don't have any weapon, as you still can miss it and get damaged.
Also, something's wrong with the damage detection: sometimes, specially when fighting bosses, you'll die with a blow which usually would take away 2 or 3 health points even if you have plenty of health left. I guess it has something to do with where you take the damage, maybe head-blows are more damaging, but I can't really tell.
The graphics are a somewhat redeeming feature, as they're not bad, just appropriate. The music is also OK, but it lacks on variety. There's only one theme for every stage, repeated over and over again. At least each boss has his own theme, but that's not where you'll spend most of your gameplay time.
Other quality of this game, if you can call it a quality, is that picking up power ups isn't something one should do without planning. Running Battle has plenty of power ups: life, guns, riffles, Super Strength (or Super Suit), 1UPs and the most valued Super Run, which makes the character run undamaged through the enemy waves for 5 seconds. But even if it seems obvious that you should pick up the Super Run any time it appears, it simply isn't true. When you use the Super Run, you pass running several stationary guns which can hide more valuable items, such as 1UPs. This is specially true in the last level, where you'll need every extra help you can get, as you'll fight 3 bosses in a row with no life power-ups or continues between them. Also, riffles are more powerful than guns, but carry less ammo. So you'll get yourself pondering if you should get those 10 riffle rounds when you still have 15 gun bullets left. This adds a bit of "strategy" or "choices" to the game.
Speaking of choice, this is one early case of a game with alternative endings. The way of choosing them is pretty lame (switching a lever up or down), but it at least adds some replayability to the game. The big let down is that both endings consist of just one screen with an image and some text. You don't even get to see the credits.
Speaking of the endings, one of them involves rescuing Brody's sister, Mary. When you do it, you don't know who she is, and as she reveals that she's Brody's sister, she tells you that you'll beat M. together. Well, here's another continuity issue: you still have to do the job alone, no trace of Mary during the last fight.
In closure, it isn't by chance that Running Battle is not a title everyone remembers when talking about Master System games. It came too late in the console's life-cycle to bear so many flaws, which could be easily fixed if the developers were a bit more careful. In fact, it seems they did this game "running", and that's why you shouldn't come running to it.
by chirinea (46950) on May 27th, 2013