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  1. It is 1983. Taito produces the seminal Elevator Action for the arcades, a proto run 'n gun which involved infiltrating architecturally odd buildings looking for secret documents behind specified doors whilst being hunted by enemy agents. It was kind of a big deal and might have been the first game to have a jump move double as a one hit death kick (without which you definitely won't live to see the second level). And plenty of bodies being slowly crushed in lift shafts. A few years later in '86 Namco unleashes Rolling Thunder which ran a LOT faster, had huge sprites, borrowed the door mechanic from Elevator Action (this time placing weapon stocks behind them)..as well as the high body count. It also featured two-tiered and multi-directional scrolling stages, glitzy cut scenes between levels and colourful hooded enemy goons straight out of an earlier Ghibli movie - an army standing between you and the rescue of your captured comrade. [I think it's safe to say Sega ripped the multi-level jumping mechanic straight from this game when producing Shinobi in the wake of its release; good job that that game also bought enough of its own swag to prevent it from being labeled a Rolling Thunder clone..but I digress] Fast forward to 1990 and Namco comes back with Rolling Thunder 2, further refined and now with a fully realised plot reminiscent of a pulpy Bond-esque novel involving a terrorist syndicate taking down satellites, bickering heads of state and another plan to take over the world..and now your rescued comrade can fight by your side in a two-player co-op mode too. Being another frenetic experience the extra firepower is much appreciated. The now animated and static cut scenes, subtle and not-so-subtle use of sprite scaling, devious & effective level designs and an impeccable score help make this game one seriously classy, bullet-ridden affair. [I'd be remiss not to mention the outstanding Mega Drive port of Rolling Thunder 2, which despite being an early release adds more content and story too. The reworked, simplified yet still sophisticated OST holds up excellently as well. "Where Is The Target" might have the meanest bass line in any chiptune released in that era.] By the time 1994 rolls around a lot has changed in the gaming landscape. Taito seem to be experimenting with their arcade game production and a surprise belated, big budget sequel to Elevator Action (either with the 'II' or 'Returns' suffix depending on region) appears. It seems to take a fair bit of inspiration from Rolling Thunder 2 but ups the ante with three mechanically different playable characters, special moves, sub weapons, tonnes of hidden pickups, wild set pieces (including surviving a suicide blast in a stationary aeroplane), a similarly lavish fusion-inspired Zuntata soundtrack, another climax featuring a space shuttle backdrop, more enemy types, more hiding in doors and even slicker (& sicker) presentation in general. And the handy jumping death kicks are back. Eschewing the fashionable move to 3D of the time and featuring hand drawn highly detailed graphics, it's held up really well. It's almost like Rolling Thunder 2 and Elevator Action Returns are two sides of the same completely ridiculous yet brilliantly badass coin and I can't decide which I prefer or think more highly of..or which series owes more to the other. RT2 is a tougher, faster, more precision and twitch-based experience, whereas EAR is the kind of brilliance that really shouldn't exist but somehow some blessed individual at Taito took a hit for the team and green-lit it anyway. With the MD and Saturn ports of these games being absolutely mandatory to play IMO, it puzzles me why there seems to be so little discussion about them as important singular or related works. Maybe if they had proper / memorable boss encounters or if the Saturn port hadn't been locked to Japan the situation would be different. Perhaps these sequels were always somewhat obscure to the wider gaming community and I've confused nostalgia with objectivity. I really don't know what to think..other than that I want to share how much I adore these weirdly somehow symbiotic games.
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