The old arcade scene was rife with rivalries, and the one between Sega and Namco was among the most heated. While fans argued endlessly about the pro and cons of Virtua Fighter and Tekken, another battle, but no less intense, raged on the sidelines. Lightgun shooters were the ever-popular mainstays, and for a short time, Sega’s Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns were the ostentatious playboys. Both games have been collected in one package for the Wii, but more than a decade later, all of the novelty has faded away.
I recently wrote about my favorite rail shooters, and Gunblade was not even close to being a contender. I never considered Gunblade a good game to begin with. It was an arcade machine designed to siphon quarters at all costs, which I suppose actually made it an excellent game, for Sega. Gunblade was a novelty that existed when polygons were still fresh and able to draw a crowd, no matter how hideous they were. Failing that, the large machinegun controllers gave the cabinet an extra kick of attractive manliness.
The main problem with Gunblade is that the camera whips around like a rollercoaster designed by a hyperactive five year old. I have played more rail shooters than I can remember the names of, and Gunblade is the first to strike me with motion-sickness. The movements are especially ridiculous after you’ve zoomed through tree branches and six-inch crevices, only to have a cinematic reveal that you’ve been flying around in a helicopter.
In addition to the frenzied camera, the androids you battle flip and slide around like gymnasts on speed. They are also fond of launching salvos of missiles with insanely small hit-boxes. It’s extremely common for the camera to spin around just in time to reveal two or more missiles a quarter-second from impact. It’s an incredibly cheap tactic that was meant to keep the quarters flowing into the machine. On the Wii, it comes off as an annoying case of bad game design.
L.A. Machineguns is the repentant sibling of Gunblade. It shares the same premise, but beefs up the graphics, gives you a fair shot at downing the numerous missiles, and tones down the whiplash-inducing movements in favor of speed. As your hoverbike screams forward, between skyscrapers and through highway underpasses, the stain of Gunblade is nearly lost in the excitement.
Impressive mechanized bosses round out the experience, including a platoon of Fuchikoma-esque tanks, ala Ghost in the Shell, while an improved scoring system adds extra incentive to stay alive. Every hit on an enemy builds towards a timed multiplier. Keep the damage going and your multiplier can rocket well in the double-digits. Hit an innocent bystander, of which there are almost too many, and you lose points, instead of health.
With unlimited continues, you can expect to beat both games back-to-back in under 20 minutes. Gunblade includes a Score Attack Remix, in which you have one minute to gather points. L.A. Machineguns has no separate mode of its own. Both games have additional weapons, including a weak Rapid Shot and a strong Heavy Shot, that can be unlocked by playing repeatedly and gaining ranks. Since neither game was designed with them in mind, the new weapons fail to impact gameplay in any meaningful fashion or draw you back for more.
Except for running through on two harder difficulties, there is little reason to play beyond the initial 20 minutes. Nostalgia would be a possibility, but I have yet to meet anyone with the types of cherished memories that Virtua Cop and Time Crisis inspired. Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns Arcade Hits Pack is a double dose of faithful ports of mediocre shooters with minimal enhancements, but at least you get to keep the quarters.