Ikari III: The Rescue
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Release Date: 04/23/2012
First, let it be known that the internet is a truly wondrous invention.
Without it, we wouldn’t have many of the modern conveniences we take for granted today. Whereas one would have to talk to an actual human being at a national pizza chain twenty-four years ago, today you can point and click your way to ploy-saturated bliss and not have to put up with your fellow man. Today’s generation has been saved from the repetitive sitcom tropes of prime-time network TV, and instead navigates a brave new world of cat videos and ignored privacy settings. In that same regard, it’s also began to move gaming from retail shelves and directly to your entertainment center. Publishers used to have to put money into things like plastic boxes, empty discs and contracts that dictated how many copies would be produced. But not today. Thanks to the internet, a publisher can take a game and simply make it available for download.
That’s a method which has been extremely fruitful for Nintendo and the other console makers. Take a beloved game for a piece of hardware that isn’t sold anymore, be it an older console or an arcade game, wrap it up in an emulator and call it a day. Put that emulated game for sale on your digital storefront, sit back and ride that nostalgic wave to unapologetic profit.
It’s through this miracle of cynical marketig that we’re given the dubious pleasure of being able to play Ikari III: The Rescue. Published in 1989, Ikari III – dropping the “Warriors” from the moniker of the game’s two predecessors – is as much an icon of its time as any memorable cultural or entertainment meme of that period. For older game players and fans, the “Ikari Warriors” name might take you back to that earlier time, where the Cold War mentality of approaching our fellow man highlighted who the good guys were (Chuck Norris, Optimus Prime, Oliver North) and who were the bad (The Noid, Megatron, Oliver North). It’s a game where two soldiers run into the jungle to unload indiscriminate carnage in a nameless jungle alludting to a war that had happened only a short decade earlier. If anything, you can’t fault SNK for not knowing their audience.
The story is quintessential 80s war movie fare. “A presidential candidate’s child has been kidnapped by an enemy terrorist party. Top officials have asked the two best soldiers to secretly take action on this matter.” the game details. In case you were at all unsure about whether these two Norris/Stallone hybrids were the wrong guys for the job, the game assures you that, “They were born to fight!”
That’s all well and good, as I’m sure this would have been a fun and enjoyable romp through a Rambo: First Blood fantasy. But fantasy is about all this war game is good for. G1M2’s execution of Ikari III, aside from providing a $2.99 gateway for fans of the original, might provide very little satisfaction to any potential newcomers. Or, for that matter, it might be jarring for any person who is looking at this game having played Ikari Warriors parts 1 or 2. The names might be similar, but the experiences are altogether different.
Whereas the first two Ikari Warriors games were top-down, weapons-centric shooters that were somewhat cartoonish, Ikari III was designed to be a brawler. That’s right, friends. Hands, fists, and the incidental weapon are your armaments in Ikari III. Like Double Dragon, but in faux Vietnam or South America, you’re tasked with kicking, punching and at times shooting your enemies into submission. The game, like many older SNK titles that have been re-released in recent years, is simply the original arcade ROM wrapped up in an emulator that can be played either on the PS3 or the PSP, and runs without any apparent hitch. The graphics are great for their time, and it sounds good too. But what kills the game – and is really the only remarkable yet tragic flaw – is how the original control scheme has been adapted to our fan-dangled 21st century controllers. To understand why, here’s a brief history lesson SNK, controllers, and how a relic of arcades past serves to wreak havoc in the present. (Accompanied by YouTube videos that belong to their respective owners!)
Ikari III was originally built with a custom joystick manufactured by Seimitsu called the LS-30. It was used on other SNK games, and was quite novel for it’s time. The joystick itself was a normal eight-way joystick. But the stick itself was shaped like an octagon, and could be rotated eight directions independent of which way you titled the stick. What this meant for Ikari III was that you tilted the stick to move while rotating it to aim. I’ve never played the original, but the execution looks seamless in this video. The only weird thing with respect to the control scheme in Ikari III is that you have to manually aim your punches and kicks using the rotary function. With what you’re seeing in the videos above, the LS-30 seems to make it feasible.
Why? Because you’re putting two directional schemes on the same stick. With respect to a PS3 port, this shouldn’t be a problem for the PS3. I was expecting that each scheme (movement and aiming rotation) could be mapped to a respective stick. G1M2 could have easily mapped the movement function to one stick, leaving the rotary aiming action to the other. Perhaps assign the left stick to move your character, and use the right one to aim it? That would be splendid!
But apparently – and this is only a personal hunch – this control scheme couldn’t be replicated on the PSP due to the absence of another comfortably placed analog stick. In this instance, G1M2 decided to assign movement to either the D-Pad or the left analog stick (PS3 only). How did they “solve” the rotation problem?
By assigning it to the R and L buttons. Que the disappointment.
That’s right. In order to aim your punches and kicks, you have to tap the R and L buttons to rotate your character. This grows very, very annoying only seconds into the game. In order to do a 180 degree rotation, you have to hit the R or L button four times. If this game played at a slower pace, this would be OK. But it doesn’t. Imagine my surprise when I attempted to punch an enemy that approached from behind, only to see my fist fly triumphantly in front of me, 180 degrees away from its intended target. My heart was in the right place, but the button assignment was not.
Not all hope is lost, however, as you can go into the game’s options and change the aiming scheme from “Manual” to “Automatic.” This makes consolidates your movement and aiming to one direction, which makes the game much more playable. But even after this change, enemies in Ikari III approach you in far greater numbers than are comfortable to tackle. When you’re ganged up on by five guys coming at you from three separate directions, even the adapted “Automatic” assignment means you’re gonna get killed. Maybe this is why we lost the war.
Of no help is the game’s AI, which is ridiculously unbalanced. I qualitatively blame this on two factors. The first was that it was made in the 1980s, at a time when customer feedback regarding difficulty – especially in an arcade game – might have consisted of a phone call from an arcade owner to a regional distributor saying that his nephew found the game too hard. Ikari III has many, many moments where the player is swarmed by enemies that will pummel you to the point where you’re automatically hit when you recover. This means you’ll see your life meter fall precipitously if you have the unfortunate occurrence of being cornered by three or more enemies. The second reason it’s unnecessarily hard is because it’s an SNK game. In their subsequent fighting games, this syndrome carried over to final bosses in franchises like The King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. Frustratingly, this tradition is alive and well.
So what is there left to say about Ikari III? Not much, truth be told. I was excited because I remember playing Ikari Warriors on the NES when it was first released. But Ikari III is not that game. There’s probably something waiting for the nostalgic player, but the experience is mired by the horrendous yet ultimately necessary control adaptation from the LS-30 stick. If you can suffer through it, you’re a more patient gamer than I. Maybe even patient enough to find something that I couldn’t. But if Ikari III doesn’t compel nostalgia, add a buck to the game’s purchase price and buy a gallon of gas. Seriously. Just go for a ride around the old neighborhood or take a drive down to some place open and scenic, and reminisce about old times that don’t include Ikari III.
Replayability: Below Average
Addictiveness: Below Average
Final Score: Poor Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Ikari III: The Rescue is a port of the arcade version only for the die hard fans. Fans of the previous Ikari Warriors games are cautioned, as are any newcomers to the title. Button assignments from the arcade’s original rotary joystick are replicated on the PS3 and PSP with disastrous results. If you can look past that disaster, then you’re a better player for it.