You may remember how yesterday I commented that a top down shooter in the style of Ikari Warriors was impossible... Or was it? Well there is a game that gets this style of gameplay down, and it does it almost perfectly, that game is Front Line. This is the game that Ikari Warriors wishes it was. It works off of the same exact formula, but it does it well, unlike Ikari Warriors or even Activision's Commando. This game was released by Coleco, who had a decent but somewhat spotty record when it came to quality releases. Front Line is definitely one of the best games Coleco ever released for the 2600. I first experienced this game on the Atari 2600 Flashback 5 by AtGames, it was one of my favorite games on the console, along with Desert Falcon, Fatal Run, and Asteroids, but Front Line is the one I played the most. This review has been a long time coming, so lets just jump into it.
This game looks quite good.. Blocky but definable. The little soldier dude is in traditional Union attire, which leads me to believe that this is a Civil War game, this opinion is only further compounded by the enemies, which are wearing traditional Confederate colors. The sprites are nice and large which allows for more detail to be injected. One of the praises I had for Ikari Warriors was that the grass had 'texture', this game bypasses this by simply using different colored bars, you'll understand if you play it. There is also differing terrain, there are mountains, deserts, bridges, forests, and enemy encampments. This game looks far more interesting than Ikari Warriors since, there are different set-pieces for the different terrains, which sever to keep things interesting, since it keeps things from getting monotonous. Overall the graphics are quite good, despite being very blocky, the enemies are quite well defined as is the little soldier dude you control.
Sounds are simple, yet passable. There is a little jingle when you boot up the game, and a little bit of marching percussion when you start a new game, otherwise it's just the sounds of gunfire, and the sounds of your own marching boots. Sounds are unobtrusive, which I can appreciate, with Ikari Warriors it was to caught up in trying to emulate the NES or arcade version and put in a rather obnoxious backing soundtrack, which was awful to listen to. Front line is not quite so ambitious and it comes out better for it.
The gameplay is quite similar to Ikari Warriors but it improves several key areas. You move much faster, which allows for better dodging of enemy fire. Tanks no longer run on fuel, you have it as long as you don't get hit. A note on the tanks, to access a tank you press the fire button on one of the strange blue squares dotted around the map, you will then enter a tank. There are obstacles, instead of it being a straight shot to the next boring enemy, you actualy have to manouver around rocks, bumpy terrain, trees, and even cacti. Enemies are also affected by the obstacles and different terrain as well by slowing down, and in some cases are unable to shoot you back. Your objective in this game is to fight the multitudes of enemies through differing terrain, until you reach the enemy encampment and fight this game's equivalent to a boss, a giant gun (I think), though the manual says nothing of this, probably keeping it a surprise for the kiddies.
I can't recommend this game enough, it is everything that Ikari Warriors and Activision's Commando, wishes to be. The game isn't too expensive either. This game came out in 1984, six years before Ikari Warriors and one year before Commando, and I honestly think it is superior to both, in almost every single way.