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Off-Brand Games: Midnight Resistance


Remember when I told you my father was a former ballplayer? Well, after his stint in Japan, he spent some years floating about the States as a hitting instructor for a few minor league clubs. In 1998, we visited him for a couple of months during the summer he coached in Ogden, Utah. On one away trip, we stayed in this rinky-dink motel with the most obscure arcade cabinet I had ever seen.

I had never heard of Midnight Resistance before, but my brother and I were both drawn to it immediately. When I grabbed the joystick and wiggled it around to get a feel for the machine, I noticed that the control panel felt a little loose. Pulling back on the stick, I was able to pry back the panel, exposing the coin box. Knowing that I would never get an opportunity like this again, my brother and I spent an otherwise slow afternoon in that game room sticking it to the man.

We cleaned out all the quarters and stuffed them back into the coin slot, allowing ourselves a nice stock of continues. Whenever there was a lull in the action, I would pop up the panel and scoop out the quarters again. Infinite lives, baby. Unfortunately, our plans were foiled during the game's final stage as we both bit the big one and were unable to retrieve more change before the countdown timer reached zero.

I neither saw nor heard of the game again until a couple years back when I came across this Contra retrospective on 1up...

OFFENDER: Midnight Resistance
RELEASED ON: Arcade, 1989 (and later on just about everything else, the whore)

When I say "multiplatform," what comes to mind? Xbox 360, PS3, and PC? Wii, PS2, and PSP? Or perhaps Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PS2? Ooooh, so daring! It must take magic to port to so many "different" platforms! What a load of horse piles. Think back to the late '80s and early '90s. When a game got ported, it made the rounds. Conversions appeared on the main Nintendo and Sega consoles, sure, but they'd also appear on every goofy home computer that you sorta forgot actually existed until someone tries to impress you with some obscure techno-geek trivia that was pulled off of Wikipedia that morning.

Like what I'm doing right now. Goddammit.

These were the days before Windows made everybody its bitch. There was no infrastructure homogeneity of the type today's consoles enjoy, so just about every version was built from the ground up for its platform. Midnight Resistance wasn't as spread thin as some other games, but it did find its way onto the Sega Genesis, Amiga, Commodore 64, and others following its arcade debut. What it did not appear on was a Nintendo platform.

Why did I bring up all that? No reason whatsoever. I'm focusing on the arcade original, so I just wasted the last minute of your life. I'm sorry, but not really.

You and a friend play a nameless super soldier and his nameless super comrade and/or lover paving an interstate of destruction through bipedal cannon fodder and deadly mechanical delights. A floating head known as the Commissar has kidnapped your entire family in order to persuade your super scientist grandfather to help his plans for global conquest. You were content to leave the super nutjob to his devices, but he had to go and make things all personal-like. Super.

The game marries hardcore violence with family values as demonstrated in the attract movie which comes off as a Hallmark card penned by John Rambo. The message "DAD, MOM, SIS, PLEASE BE CAREFUL" flashes across the screen, interspersed with stills of burly men and big guns. At first I thought, is this a dedication of sorts? When I finally gathered that it was the game's threadbare plot, I then wondered, why would you ask your kidnapped family to be careful? Wouldn't that message have been more appropriate prior to the fact? That they were taken from their homes is precisely because they weren't careful. That's what you get for being so "super," grandpa.

Speaking of grandpa, he, your grandmother, and your brother were also taken hostage. I guess you don't love them enough to acknowledge their existence in the game's prologue.

But never mind that, the game made a cameo appearance in RoboCop 2 when our beloved enforcer hurls a punk-ass into a Midnight Resistance cabinet! I'll have to concede that the real money shot is when the schmuck is driven face first into a Bad Dudes monitor!


It's about time I actually tell you how the game plays, right? Yeah. Contra. Alright, my work is done. Goodnight everybody!

But seriously, it was released two years after Contra and borrows *heh* heavily from the same playbook. The characters look unmistakably like Bill Rizer and Lance Bean and share the same basic weapon set. Contra has the machine gun, Midnight Resistance has the full auto gun. The former has the laser and fireball, the latter combines the two into the superior fire gun. The former has the ever-classic spread shot, the latter has the 3-way.

Speaking of 3-way, doesn't Midnight Resistance sound like a good title for a gay porno?

ANYWAY, there are a number a little things that distinguish it from Contra. For example, you don't somersault when you jump and you can crawl along the floor. Also, you don't gain weapons within levels. Instead, most of the grunts drop red keys that can be collected and spent as currency in ammo caches that appear between levels. You can only hold six keys, but you should never have to worry missing one as enemies drop more than enough for you and a second player. In addition to weapons, you can also purchase bombs, shields, 1ups, and ammo for your newly acquired weapons, another change from Contra.

By far the most important difference is the aiming mechanism. The original Contra only allows you to fire in the direction you are facing or running, with sequels allowing you to lock the gun in place. Midnight Resistance allows you to fire in any of eight directions at any time in any position thanks to a special dial on the joystick itself. As you are racing through a level, you can twist the dial to reorient your sights. I personally find this a much better system but realize that it is not one that is easy to emulate on consoles, which I'll touch upon later.

Enemies range from your basic runners, your basic gunners, and your basic assortment of land, sea, and air vehicles. There is no alien angle in the game unless you count the weird-ass final boss in outer space. With the exception of a couple of rather extreme bosses, the baddies and their death machines are grounded in reality. There is one point where you fight ten fighter jets, swooping down on you like vultures, so I use the term "reality" extremely loosely. There was also one gun turret that reminded me distinctly of the wall at the end of the jungle in Contra, but most enemies are very generic and thus I wouldn't consider them copycats.

The game is short. Most levels are over before they begin. Take the first level, for instance. You begin by riding atop a jeep as it cruises twenty below the posted speed limit of 30, running over grunts who make no effort to jump out of the way. Hell, some even chase you from behind and kill themselves by slamming head-first into the rear fender. After that clown parade (which doesn't last more than twenty seconds), you hop over a scaffolding, blow up a tank, and... that's it. In a later level, you climb up a ladder, shoot a few goons, fight a robotic centipede, and... ta-da. Next thing you know, you are in the final level shooting at glass panels with the Commissar's mug sneering down on you, looking ever so much like he's trapped in the Phantom Zone (my second Superman II reference in as many articles).

Which segues neatly into my next point: The game is easy. Even if you only have a vague recollection of playing Contra back in the day, you can probably make it halfway through this game without depleting your initial set of lives on the very first run. It's not until the final third of the game where the challenge is brought up to Contra standard, but even then the levels are so short that if you run out of quarters (or continues), it wouldn't be much of a hassle to spend the ten minutes it took to get to that mark. There aren't any serious consequences in taking risks since you don't lose the keys and weapons you've collected upon death. Instead, they scatter around about and can be reclaimed (or stolen by player two) upon rematerializing. They don't even vanish after a length of time, so the only way to actually lose them is to die at the edge of the screen whereby your items may drop beyond the visible playing field.

I do want to touch briefly on the Genesis port of the game, as it was the only conversion handled directly by Data East. It's by and large identical to the arcade original with some graphical compromises, an improved soundtrack, and an unfortunate lack of second-player support. I am not a big fan of the Genesis port, however, because of the retardedly retarded control schemes. By default, you can only aim in the direction you are facing or pressing, like Contra except looser and stickier. For example, pushing down to lie on your stomach will also aim the gun straight down rather than in front of you. The workaround is to hold the 'B' button to lock the aim, but that still requires a bit of initial fiddling with the direction pad.

The three other options are bastardized approximations of the awesome joystick dial where the 'B' button is used to rotate the gun clockwise, counterclockwise, or alternating between the two directions. If you need to aim 45 degrees down but your current scheme forces you to spin 315 degrees in the opposite direction... see the problem? To top it all off, instead of a fire button you have a fire toggle for all four schemes. Since everything but your default gun demands ammo, leaving your gun in firing mode will deplete your supply unless you remember to shut it off. What should only require a single button press is now a needless two-step hassle. That's just... no.

My displeasure towards the Genesis port aside, I found the arcade game to be quite enjoyable. I can honestly say with no nostalgia clouding (unlike Power Blazer) that Midnight Resistance is a genuinely decent game. It's less aggravating than the average run-and-gun for those who may typically be turned off by the genre, and beyond the aesthetic similarities to Contra it is able to stand on its own. It's not über amazing but you could do a lot worse.

You could be playing Commando: Steel Disaster.

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About Tony Ponceone of us since 12:40 AM on 09.09.2007

(Decommissioned) Super Fighting Robot