Retro Review: “Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike” (SEGA Genesis, Attack Helicopter Week Special)

Welcome back to Attack Helicopter Week here at The Splintering! We previously reviewed Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf in Attack Helicopter Weeks of years past, so this year, we’re diving into that game’s sequel: Jungle Strike for SEGA Genesis.

Published by Electronic Arts in 1993 for multiple platforms, Jungle Strike: The Sequel to Desert Strike is very much like its predecessor: a slower-paced, isometric shooter. However, there are many additions that set Jungle Strike apart, most of which – but not all- are absolutely for the better.

Another killer title screen

This time around, America is threatened by a South American drug cartel kingpin named Carlos Ortega, who has just become a nuclear power thanks to his newfound partnership with Ibn Kilbaba, the son of Saddam Hussein the “Madman” from Desert Strike. Later in the game, the vicious duo are joined by a former Soviet General, so between the South American drug lords, Middle Eastern tyrants and commies, you are truly facing a 1990s version of “the Axis of Evil.”

So what is America’s plan for dealing with this menacing trifecta? Send the same hero helicopter pilot from the first game on a series of solo missions to defeat everyone. That’s the plan from the last surviving military superpower? Damn defense budget cuts…

Your Apache helicopter is equipped with guns and two types of missiles, Hydra missiles and the more powerful hellfire. All of your weapons have limited ammunition, though you can replenish them by collecting ammo boxes throughout each stage. The controls take very short bit to get used to, as up moves forward, down moves, backward, and left and right banks your craft as you fly. This scheme works rather well, and it feels pretty good to coast through the open spaces of each stage. Targeting your weapons, on the other hand, isn’t always as precise, depending on the copilot you select. You’ll sometimes be better off firing a few bullets to ensure that you’re on target before unloading your more powerful (and more limited) ammunition.

That’s a nice villa you got there… be a shame if someone… blew it to smithereens

“Welcome to the… Snowy Mountains?”

One of the most significant improvements in Jungle Strike is the number of stages. While Desert Strike only had four largely similar stages, Jungle Strike has nine. This makes Jungle Strike surprisingly too long to beat in a single sitting, but fortunately there is a password system to save your progress. There is much better variety in the environments, too, which include Washington D.C., a tropical coastline, nighttime jungle infiltration, an enemy training camp, a South American village, and even snow covered mountains (WTF?). While the stages don’t always put the “jungle” in Jungle Strike, it’s certainly more enjoyable to play the game with fresh backgrounds.

When you think Jungle Strike, think snowy mountain tops

Each map is fairly large, and they take about 30-45 minutes to complete. Your crew is tasked with several missions before you can successfully clear an area, and there is a good amount of variety in them. Of course, you will have to find and destroy a set of targets, but you will also have to conduct rescue missions, capture nuclear materiel, collect intelligence by capturing enemy leaders, and provide security in escort missions (including one for then President Bill Clinton).

However, not all the missions are equally enjoyable. Sometimes your task isn’t always clear, and you will occasionally find yourself flying around aimlessly trying to find some-such-thing to shoot at. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if your helicopter wasn’t constantly running out of fuel, which makes these missions all the more frustrating. Still, the gameplay variety is appreciated, particularly in comparison to the game’s predecessor.

But that’s not all. There are also stages where your pilot will swap vehicles to perform particular tasks. These include a hovercraft, a motorcycle, and a stealth fighter. While this was a great idea, controlling both the motorcycle and the stealth fighter is a pain in the neck. In fact, the worst part of my experience came when I had to land the stealth fighter and return to my Apache. The game doesn’t give you any clues as to how landing works, and even after watching videos online of how to do it, it took me over twenty minutes to land successfully. The hovercraft though? That was cool. Thumbs up.

This stealth fighter… is too damn hard to land!

One of Desert Strike’s most significant faults was that it was aesthetically bland. Despite having similar graphics, Jungle Strike is a much more attractive game to look at. Not only does the variety in environment help keep things fresh, but there is far more detail on the most of the maps, too.

The first and last stages – both of which take place in Washington D.C. – are probably the most impressive. The map includes several famous landmarks and government office buildings, such as the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the Library of Congress, and the Washington Monument. If you’ve ever been to D.C., you’ll immediately recognize that these stages have zero bearing on the real-life layout of the city (CIA headquarters isn’t actually next door to the White House), but it was still a nice touch. It was also quite nice to blow up the terrorists who were attempting to destroy government facilities and topple monuments… “It’S OnLy PrOpErTy DaMaGe, hUr-DuR!” BANG!

A parade for the heroes that stopped the terrorists from destroying D.C.’s monuments

On the sound side, Jungle Strike is very much like its predecessor. There’s really not much sound to speak of. Sure, there are sound effects for your weapons and explosions and the chopping sounds from your helicopter is always present, but there’s no background music. There are some rocking tunes at the title screen and between stages during the story interludes (which are decidedly more amusing this time around), but I’d still prefer some kind of music when playing the game.

To round out my remaining complaints, the spin-out your helicopter suffers when you bang into large objects is still pretty annoying, and sometimes the hostages you are supposed to rescue don’t move far enough from buildings for you to be able to reach them, causing you to wait and burn fuel at the same time.

Bill Clinton taking a break from raping women (allegedly!) and schmoozing interns to attend an NSA intel brief

Got Jungle Fever?

Overall, Jungle Strike is a much more robust experience than Desert Strike, and outside of some of the weird decisions the developers made for the extra vehicles, Jungle Strike is an improvement on its predecessor in pretty much every way. If you’re only going to play one of the 16-bit games in the Strike series, then Jungle Strike may very well be the way to go. However, we’ve yet to cover the third game in the series: Urban Strike, but that is better left for a future installment of Attack Helicopter Week!

Damn! That Game Over screen is harsh!

Now, did I cut and paste a few chunks of text from our Desert Strike review? Only one way to find out.

Thanks for reading!

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