What a name. Last Duel. It conjures such evocative imagery. What could this game be about? What plot could do justice to the weight of such a mighty epithet? Erm, I’m still not sure.
Now the thing is, I remember playing this game down the local arcade as a kid and picking it up again all these years later, things seem broadly as I remember them. You jump into your car, which looks a little bit like Wheelie from the original Transformers movie, and tear off down a ludicrously dangerous track, shooting various alien blobs out of your way as you go whilst trying desperately to keep your vehicle within the confines of the circuit. Every now and then a gap opens up in the track and you get to deploy your special move of jumping a bit, more often than not coming up woefully short and plummeting to your death. This goes on for a bit until you either run out of credits or reach the end of the track, where for some bizarre reason you are confronted by an end of level boss, who proceeds to pummel you into the dirt unless you chuck about a tenner in the machine to keep going.
But that’s just for starters. Because you see once all your change has been hoovered into the cabinet and you blast your way through the boss, something rather strange happens; your car becomes a car no more and magically transforms into a ship. Cue a space-based level as the game turns into a vertically scrolling shooter, presenting an all together different challenge. Unfortunately you no longer have your ‘special’ jump, having traded it in for a barrel roll that makes you temporarily invincible for some reason.
And so it goes for six levels, alternating between car and ship. To be fair it is reasonably playable but the niggles vastly outweigh the positives. For starters it is rock hard. I found the car sections easier to navigate than the ship ones, not least because it was easier to control your speed and there generally seemed to be less enemies coming at you, perhaps a reflection of your single front-mounted cannon, making taking them out more manageable. In the ship, attacks come at you from all sides, spawning almost constantly. Pick ups are littered throughout the level, granting you the usual array of upgrades, missiles and side attacks and once you get tooled up properly, you feel somewhat more capable of fighting back. This is often only a temporary reprieve though as Last Duel employs one of my absolute pet peeves in that losing a life means losing all of your weapon upgrades, reverting you immediately back to the base cannon. This is aggravating enough mid-stage but doubly so when you die either just before or during a boss fight, which you will inevitably will as the bosses tend to spew out a never ending stream of projectile death at you.
It’s ugly as sin too. Think back to 1988 and the arcades were graced with the likes of Powerdrift, Splatterhouse, DragonNinja and other graphical showcases. By comparison this looks like a slightly beefed up NES game, the space bits in particular reminding me of a poor man’s Xenon 2. Explosions are pretty lacklustre too, removing any sense of satisfaction from taking out the enemies.
Something of a curiosity this. It isn’t awful by any means but it is frustratingly difficult, especially during the boss fights and space sections, with neither offering any particularly compelling reason to keep playing.