Action Fighter (SMS) Review

action fighter title

The Short

Pros

  • A mis-mash of other popular games
  • HOT ARCADE ACTION!
  • Technically unlimited lives? Kind of?
  • Literally the 8-bit version of Sonic All Star Racing: Transformed
  • As in, you go from a motorcycle to a car to a CARJET! The coolest.
  • Box art is so awful I love it

Cons

  • Not enough vertical view leads to cheap deaths
  • Advancement forward is completely dependent on randomly-dropped power-ups
  • Carjet is way underpowered compared to its enemies
  • Game is just dumb hard
  • “Action Fighter” sounds like a fighting game, not a Spy Hunter ripoff
Pictured: Action...and fighting?

Pictured: Action…and fighting?

The Long

Sega was initially well known for its arcade presence, which is why I imagine their first system (the Sega Master System) is primarily (at least in my mind) 8-bit ports of their more popular arcade games. Some of Sega’s old arcade games were downright incredible, staples of the industry (Space Harrier, the Wonder Boy games, Choplifter, etc.) and others were…ripoffs of other games.

This is a ripoff of other games.

Action Fighter, graced with the least descriptive title of all time, is actually a straight up hybrid between Spy Hunter and Xevious. Which might sound totally awesome (and could be, in theory), but unfortunately some stupid design choices makes Action Fighter less an arcade classic and more a game you play for one or two rounds and put back on the shelf.

Obnoxiously huge overpasses? Large bodies of water? Must be L.A.

Obnoxiously huge overpasses? Large bodies of water? Must be L.A.

Action Fighter starts you off in a motorcycle, barreling down the streets of…somewhere (based on the palm trees, I’m gonna say California). You can shoot (akin to every other arcade overhead action driving game) other cars that get in your way or, in a cool addition, slam against similarly sized vehicles (bikes, to start with) to ram them off the road.

Every once in a while, a semi-truck with “SEGA” plastered on it may drive past. Should you drive up its back ramp (again, exactly like Spy Hunter) your bullets upgrade to missiles. Get hit once, however, and it’s back to crap weapons.

Blowing up enemies has a random chance to drop letters. After grabbing a handful, your motorcycle upgrades to a car and doubles its firepower. Grab A-F and the driving segment ends, because you TRANSFORM into a sweet CARJET (as in, you stop and wings FLY from the side of the screen and attach to your car before going airborn). It is literally the same as Sega Allstars Racing Transformed except cooler because it doesn’t have that doofus Sonic to goober it up with his ‘tude.

Pictured: Modern day Action Fighter

Pictured: Modern day Action Fighter

Once in the Carjet the game turns into a literally copy of Xevious, only with worse vision and way stronger enemies. You can either shoot bullets vs airborn foes or drop bombs on objects beneath you in true Xevious fashion, but enemies not only fire relentlessly fast bullets, but the bulk of them take an insane number of hits to fell. If you managed to get the Sega truck before and have missiles it’s a lot easier, but again…one hit, powerup gone.

You then fight a boss and move on to the next level. Do this enough times and you win!

Pictured: Your potential savior.

Pictured: Your potential savior.

Let’s get right into the nitty gritty: I liked the concept of this game a lot. Instead of initially having lives, you instead have a timer that ticks down in the bottom right of the screen (encouraging you to drive quickly). You can die as many times as you like while the timer is up and you’ll come back, right as rain. After the time runs out, then you are given a stock of lives and once those run out it is game over. It’s a nice way to extend the time of the game, so even if you suck you at least get to play for a while.

I also like the idea of mixing Spy Hunter and Xevious into one weird hybrid game. I think both those games are extremely fun, and the first time I saw the transformation to Carjet I audibly hooted a “YEAH!” of excitement. It’s pretty cool, especially on an older system.

Too bad the game isn’t very well constructed beyond that.

 

Carjet: It's the future.

Carjet: It’s the future.

You can’t see far enough ahead to safely navigate, even with the game providing helpful hints on the upcoming turns. Often it feels like vehicles pop out of nowhere (behind or in front), killing you nearly instantly. Dying drops things to a dead stop, wasting some time and forcing you to wait for a respawn. This is especially annoying if there was a letter on screen. Should you die without gathering it, you get to watch it slowly move to the bottom, disappearing forever. Awesome.

On the letters thing: this also seems weird. The only way to progress is to gather them, which means killing other vehicles. The thing is, the drops are completely random, and while they usually seem to come at a decent rate, I’d have runs where I’d drive for a long period of time blowing up stuff and getting nothing. What gives?

Added perk is if the letters are all you need…why am I driving fast? Where am I going? What is life? None of these questions are answered, and the only reason to go at a decent speed is to catch up with (read: spawn) more enemies. But going fast increases your risk of an insta-death crash and…yeah.

If you’d either been given more vertical screen space or the game slowed down a bit, it would all work out fine. Instead…not so much. And that’s just the driving sections.

I'm running out of pictures, so here's the title screen I guess?

I’m running out of pictures, so here’s the title screen I guess?

Carjet doesn’t fare much better. Enemies are extremely difficult and fire tons of fast moving shots. To make matters worse, enemies can hide in the clouds, resulting in an instant death without even seeing what killed you. Hitting grounded enemies is super-dangerous as your bombs have limited range, but once you are in range an enemy could fire a shot and kill you before you’d have time to even see it and react. And, on top of it all, the damn helicopters are pretty much invincible, meaning you’ll be spending most of the Carjet portions dodging rather than shooting. Hooary.

Pictured: Massive Jerks

Pictured: Massive Jerks

All in all, it’s hard to recommend Action Fighter. I think the game looks ok and the sound is…decent (even if you’ll go mad with the single song playing over and over), and it even has some interesting additions to the games it wholesale rips off. But something happened when moving it from the arcade to the Master System (I haven’t played the arcade game, but I’ve heard it is a lot better) where the lack of vertical viability and overpowered air enemies just ruin everything.

I still think it is a reasonably fun time for one or two runs, but beyond that it isn’t anything you’d be actively seeking out for your Master System collection. And that box art…I mean, all Master System games have that horrible grid paper thing going on, but a magnifying glass…looking…at a road? What the hell?!

Two out of five stars.

Googling "Action Fighter" got me this image of Richard Nixon fighting a sabertooth cat. Honestly, this should have been the box art, it makes about as much sense.

Googling “Action Fighter” got me this image of Richard Nixon fighting a sabertooth cat. Honestly, this should have been the box art, it makes about as much sense.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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1 Comment

  1. Action Fighter might need to go in the list of Top 10 video game titles

    since it’s a car game

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