And so it goes with Midnight Resistance, originally released in arcades by Data East. With its faceless heroes, heavy artillery, and a brutal difficulty level, it was clear the company wanted a taste of the success Konami had with the Contra series. There are a half dozen reasons that Midnight Resistance falls short of its inspiration, but Genesis owners long starved of a good run 'n gun shooter sure weren't complaining.
|Johnny come lately... but not lightly armed.|
The gameplay in Midnight Resistance closely follows the Contra template, with your hero aiming his gun in eight different directions and marching to a confrontation with an enormous, bullet-sponging boss. There's some light platforming, but the jump button is mostly reserved for dodging the many bullets thrown your way. All this should be familiar territory to old-school gamers, but Midnight Resistance parts ways with Contra in the way it awards new weapons. There are no power ups within the stages themselves... they're held in lockers at the end of each round, and you've got to unlock them with keys held by the Crimson King's elite red soldiers.
It doesn't sound like much of a distinction, but it's a more profound change than you'd expect. There will never be a power-up capsule to save your skin in a tight situation, forcing you to struggle to the end of the stage for your salvation. On the plus side, the weapons (both standard-issue firearms and back-mounted missiles) don't vanish when you've been killed in action... you merely drop them, along with any keys you've collected. You're free to scoop them back up with your next life and use them until they run out of ammo... or fall off the edge of the screen, if you're unlucky.
The arcade version of Midnight Resistance paired the soldier with an eager young sidekick, who can still be seen in the opening of the Genesis version. Unfortunately, the limitations of the Genesis hardware meant that Junior had to be left behind for this mission. In all fairness, there is a lot of onscreen activity here, far more than there was in the NES Contra games, and an attempt to shoehorn in a second player would likely have turned the game into a flickery, slowdown-ridden mess. Nevertheless, it's one of those omissions that will be deeply felt... especially by your friend, who will be forced to twiddle his thumbs while you're having all the fun.
|Johnny fights the Blue Angels in one of the game's best|
moments. It's just too ridiculous NOT to be awesome!
You couldn't call it arcade perfect, but in all the places that count, Midnight Resistance on the Genesis trails just a step behind the original. It looks like the real thing, and it sounds even better, with a remastered soundtrack that brings even more dramatic tension to boss fights. That's in sharp contrast to the ZX Spectrum game, which comes off as a jaundiced parody. (And yet it's regarded as one of the best games on the system, which speaks volumes about not only the machine's inadequacies but the desperation of British youth to play something, anything, that resembled a video game. I'd say Genesis owners feeling the pinch of Nintendo's exclusive licensing agreements had it pretty good by comparison! But, er, I digress.)
The only issues with Midnight Resistance can be traced directly back to the arcade game. The level designs lean toward the lazy, with your hero marching right for half the stage, then taking a ladder or lift to a fight against some cast-off vehicle from the 1980s G.I. Joe toy line. One stage is a long vertical shaft filled with drop away floors. When each floor gives way, you're dropped into a battle against a dozen of the Crimson King's soldiers, then a cluster of gears. The cycle repeats until the game realizes you're sick of its crap, then gives you a scrap of plot exposition as a peace offering. Yes yes, Midnight Resistance, all is forgiven. Just don't let it happen again!
|...and proper grammar too, apparently.|
The ridiculousness of Midnight Resistance feels like a product of hapless confusion, unlike Gunstar Heroes, which was unrelentingly bizarre but always had a method to its madness. That being said, I had a lot more fun with this heavily Contra-inspired game than Hard Corps, the official Contra for the Sega Genesis. Sure, it was a much flashier game than Midnight Resistance- the four year gap between their releases practically guaranteed it- but it was just too full of that focus-tested, artificially sweetened extremeness synonymous with the 1990s. If Midnight Resistance was a victim of its own creative indecision, Contra: Hard Corps suffers from knowing exactly what it wants... and having the bad taste to pursue it.