The enemy is airborne, and so are you. You are the best pilot the country has ever seen, and millions of people are depending on you. The ride isn’t smooth, and if it weren’t for the seatbelt you’re wearing, you would’ve banged your head into the cockpit walls a couple of times. With the engine roaring behind you, you haven’t got all day since time’s running out as you pursue the enemy plane into a vicious dogfight. Just when you are about to raise those victory flags, the time runs out and you are dragged out of the arcade cabinet as you hold on to whatever you can, begging for one last game.
Today, we talk about the era when your neighborhood arcade shop was the best of best as it had the G-LOC: Air Battle arcade cabinet. The era when 16-bit games were considered the games of the future, and it was beyond the capabilities of your 8-bit home gaming console to provide you the pleasure of combat flight simulation.
This year, Sega is killing it by bringing in their old arcade games on the millennial consoles. So far, they have released two of the most anticipated arcade marvels, back to back on the same day. One of them being Streets of Rage 4, the review for which you can read here. Though in this review, we’ll talk about Sega Ages: G-LOC Air Battle that has finally been released on the Nintendo Switch.
For the feel of it, G-LOC Air Battle has not seen the tiniest change in the last thirty years. It’s a Sega Ages release after all! The developers have tried bringing you a pure arcade experience from the comfort of your couch. Well, it only took them thirty years to do so! As you steer your aircraft to the victory, you notice the HUD changing its position on your screen accordingly. You will often find yourself straining your neck without even realizing it. However, the feature becomes quite frustrating as the game is extremely fast-paced, and the Sega ages mode takes the game to a whole new level. This feature can be turned off from the settings and you don’t really have to follow right into the footsteps of the arcade’s gaming experience. There are a lot of other retro features in the game that have transitioned over the years, as it is.
If you have grown up playing this After Burner spin-off, there is hardly anything in this review that you don’t know of already. However, for those who have missed out on the arcade golden era and need to get up to speed on the old culture, you have made the perfect landing!
The game puts you in the cockpit of an experimental aircraft and you are assigned a mission to take down the enemy aircraft. To do so, you have several weapons at your disposal. There is a machine gun and a whole different kind of missiles. Working the machine gun is comparatively easier, but the gun is best used for close-range targets. A bit of a tactic is required while launching the missiles. Before you can launch a missile, you have to lock it on to the enemy fighter jet and that is where the game meets certain limitations. The game controls used to feel sluggish back then, and the game controls feel sluggish now, especially when it comes to locking targets. By the time you will successfully bring the target into your sight, it’ll been too late.
When it comes to camera angles, the game is quite peculiar. Most of the gameplay happens in the first person, but in case a jet approaches you from your blind spot and engages a missile on you, the camera instantly zooms out to give a third-person view. If the enemies succeed in taking you down and your aircraft is about to explode, you have to eject yourself and the camera instantly glides under you. This is done to improve the gameplay experience but at times it just adds to the confusion.
As you take down the enemy fighter jets, there is a timer above you, ticking at you like a bomb. You need to be on a constant move to take down the enemy planes and move into the next levels. Once you manage to do so your time increases to your relief, otherwise, it’s not the enemy fighter jets that will be the end of you but the timer over your head. This is a pure Sega tactic, the tactic they have utilized in so many other games of the era. Taking an example of Daytona, you had a whole bunch of race cars ahead of you, but the ticking timer used to be the biggest of your worries. If you did not cross the next checkpoint in time, you will find your way back to the home screen.
What’s an Arcade game without a bunch of difficulty levels? The Sega Ages version of the G-LOC could not get any better when it brings the same difficulty levels to you on your hand-held console. As usual, there are three difficulty levels: The beginner level, followed by a medium level, and ultimately, the expert mode. There isn’t much of a challenge at the beginner level and you don’t have to worry much about controlling your aircraft. With that, all of your focus stays on locking the targets, easy peasy! Moving on to the medium level, the speed of the aircraft will be under your own control for this difficulty level. You can slow down and pace up according to your own strategy. The expert mode is where most of the magic happens and it will take the longest time to complete as compared to the other two difficulty modes. There are 16 levels in the game, and you are in full control of your aircraft. The enemies will not spare you, so you better save that A-game for this difficulty mode.
Next comes the SEGA AGES mode, and this has to be the best thing about the game so far. The mode comes with 16 new stages and an upgraded aircraft that gives a much better missile locking system. But, with the better aircraft, the game puts you up against dozens of enemies at the same time. The mode is not for the rookie pilots, but for those who have mastered the art of flying their fighter jets.
Also, the game has this Moving Cabinet feature that was really liked on games like After Burner II. The feature allows you to have your own Deluxe Type arcade cabinet in the palms of your hands, enabling you to move the cabinet left and right on your Nintendo Switch’s screen.
It’s about high time we talked about the graphics and the sounds of the game. The graphics are no better than a ninety’s arcade game and the aircraft you see around you are still very pixelated, even when played on your modern-day Nintendo Switch. Not only does the menu feel very ninety’s, but the game also puts forwards a few nostalgic prompts such as “press any button to continue” in the very beginning. As far as the sound is concerned, it’s very…retro and could not fit any better to the flow of the game. There are a few other important options in the menu other than adjusting the difficulty, such as the option to shift between the international and Japanese versions of the game. Let’s not forget the real motive behind this game!
It’s all fun and games until we consider the fact that arcade games were designed for a specific era. Arcade zones were on the rise as people could not afford expensive 16-bit gaming consoles, and there used to be endless queues of players at the arcade zones waiting to jump aboard. Hence, the games were not made to last long, and a similar problem exists with the Sega Ages version of the game as well. Playing the game on the hardest of difficulties could give you at max 15 minutes of the gameplay, and there is honestly nothing else in the game that would make you want to play it again.
Sega Ages games are not developed for the generation that has not seen the inside of an arcade cabinet; they are for people who respect the culture. But hey, who doesn’t like a good dogfight?