Ranger X, released in 1993 and published by Sega, it was developed by Gau Entertainment- a gun-for-hire developer with a long resume of competent console ports throughout the last two decades.
1993... that means I was 13 at the time. The Mega Drive, or Sega Genesis in the US, was the only console choice for me. I think I fell hook, line and sinker for the much-hyped "Cool" factor. It was this sleek, black and sexy thang that just looked right under a TV, like another stereo component. And it had bad-ass games, dangerous games that smoked, wore leather jackets and ignored the cutesy little SNES kids with their Yoshi's and inflatable pink blobs.
Of course I looked down on the SNES and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Sure I love the console now, but when you're a kid and you can only afford one machine, you're in a fight to the metaphorical death with anyone who might challenge your decision. This fanboy-ism remains to this day, with Sony and Microsoft the lead contenders in a never-ending war between the emerging tastes of teenage children.
So, what jabs could I throw in this fight? What spare change could I throw in my friends faces before I kicked them in the balls (a legitimate defensive move, BTW)? Well, Ranger X was one.
At the time, we hadn't seen a lot of the graphical tricks that this game threw at us. A lot of the onscreen chaos was reminiscent of a side-scrolling schmup, but with the bonus of controlling a giant fighting robot/exoskeleton. The design was imaginative, the sprites seemed far removed from the rounded cute edges of Cybernator (SNES) and the jet capacity of your character introduced a vertical play-field to many of the levels, used to stunning effect in one particular level that saw you fly up the side of a glass high-rise building.
A lot of these points remained in my memory when I spotted a cheap copy of the cart recently, at a local used game store and it made for an easy purchase. So how did the trip down memory lane go? Did I trip on a loose stone, due to the lack of maintenance, a sad feature for many of these old roads?
A brief cinematic intro shows a shadowy force just... hovering. But they're silhouetted, so they must be bad guys? Yep, they just flew four ships into a city and exploded without provocation. Bring on RANGER X!
You have some options, to be sure. Difficulty, controls- how do you want your 3-buttons configured?- and sound check. Classic. So, let's jump right in.
Our giant mech game begins with a checklist- that spells action! Well, no it's more like a shopping list that you still forgot to remember to write "toilet paper" on.
But it's brief and now we have vector graphics. Of... something. A city? Then... something. The leadership matrix of the Autobots?
Doesn't matter, we're in combat now, a giant robot and it's sidekick bird-bike thing with a gun.
By now, it should be painfully obvious to you that I have no idea what's going on here. Allegedly, most of the names, plot and background info is detailed in the instruction manual- which I don't have. So, no names means I'm making up my own for them. You've been warned.
Craig the giant robot is riding his proud steed, Mary Evangelista, the meanest bird-bike this side of the galaxy. His home, Chichester, is under attack from the IRS- obviously. The feds have deployed tactically-immobile-territory-suppressors, otherwise known as TITS, to attack Chichester as they believe that the town has been undervaluing it's assets and not withholding an accurate amount of payroll taxes.
Over the course of the game, you lead Craig through the various environments Chichester has to offer- one of the key features that makes the area such a wonderful tourist attraction. To aid in his righteous task, Craig can seek shelter within Mary Evangelista- here he can use her own separate shields to provide cover and change the load out of his special weapon.
That's right, you have a special. You start with a surprisingly powerful flamethrower, which is only hindered by it's limited range and ability to consume the power bar for your special weapon in a short amount of time. Said power bar is replenished when you bask in the sun, as many tourists in the area like to do as well, taking full advantage of the full five days of uninterrupted solar exposure the region enjoys in a calendar year.
I should mention at this moment, that the best special isn't even a gun. It's a psychotic metal bird that flies off your shoulder and attacks everyone in your sight, like a violent Bubo from Clash of the Titans.
When you aren't inside Mary, cowering in fear from the collection agents fearsome firepower that often-time clouds the screen, causing a stuttering effect in the graphics, you might be taking advantage of Craig's limited flight capacity. Said jets give you a short amount of time to hover or burst-jump over incoming fire, before you come crashing back down to earth. You'll need these jets to navigate later levels, where you're asked to navigate around slightly more complex levels than the initial side-scrolling ones.
This culminates in one of the best levels in the game- a flight alongside a high-rise building, where Craig takes the fight to the IRS on their own turf. You'll need to measure out your boost ability to land on ledges and floating platforms, while simultaneously taking on federal defense drones, to get to the top of the HQ.
But, back on the first level- after vanquishing the TITS, Craig comes head to head with... something. Whatever it is, you feel that you're putting it out of it's misery. Perhaps it's the IRS's attempt to genetically manipulate nature into creating the ultimate auditing machine. DESTROY IT.
Okay, enough. There's no plot. Shoot things, make go boom. It's a great game. Hovering around the screen, there's a feeling of weight to the controls. Some of your side-kick machines are more useful than others- is there much point to the floating platform, other than sunbathing? Yep, I wasn't joking about soaking up UV rays.
Some of the joys of the game are found in the little details. Before I even replayed the game recently, I recalled shooting fruit off a jungle canopy to regain health- sure enough, there it was. Yes, it made more sense when I was a kid, not too well educated on the dietary needs of a giant robot.
Another great moment- shooting flying frog-spawn underground, I accidentally caused the roof to cave in and light came crashing in, stopping Kermit's kindergartners in their tracks and finally cluing me into the fact that solar radiation was fueling my big gun! Fantastic!
There are some downsides. Well, two really. It's not easy- in fact, it's only easy to die. There's just so much stuff flying around the screen at any given time, you're bound to get dinged by some of it and the opportunities to regain health are few and far between, if not completely missing on some stages.
I've mentioned before about the occasionally choppy graphics. This isn't to say that that this isn't a fine-looking game, it really is. But so much can be happening on screen that it looks like the system has a hard time keeping up. It's visually ambitious for the Genesis, but I recall Gunstar Heroes being much more action-packed and not suffering from these kinds of issues. Still, it doesn't detract from the solid core of game-play to be found within.
In conclusion, this isn't a rare game, so when you inevitably find it gathering dust on a store shelf, it shouldn't take much thought to conclude that it belongs in your collection. Simple to pick up and play, hard to master but a fun way to waste an afternoon.