Released in 1991 for the Sega Mega Drive. It is the story of the 'Gain Ground' system, a five stage combat simulation game created to release tension (yes this is the actual story of the game). Things of course go wrong and the combatants and spectators get trapped, its up to the three fighters James, Siren and Tonga to save the day and defeat 'The Brain.' This is what I love about retro games if you played this game without reading the back of the box or the manual you would never know this was going on in the game (at least back in the nineties before the internet was big).
like the story implies the game is set across five stages which have ten levels each. Each stage seems to cover a different era of time with stage one coming across as a sort of medevil period and you progress through history till you end up in the future on the final stage. Enemies are also tailored to the particular time period though there is a wide variety including archers, purple fire breathing monsters and warlords. There is also a large boss at the end of each stage. The combatants that you play as also seem to appear tailored to various points in history robots, army men, wizards and archers.
Gain Ground is a top down action game. The main objective for every level is simple kill everything. On normal and easy mode you start with three people in your party called James, Siren and Tonga who all have different pros and cons to their play style and each use different weapons and have a unique special fire function some characters can throw weapons onto high ledges, others can do long range shots.
The player has to use a little thought and strategy in order to figure out the best way to tackle each level. Along the way you can rescue hostages, if you manage to escort them to the exit they will add to your party. Also a nice touch if your character gets hit just once they turn into a hostage, on choosing a new character if you manage to escort them to the exit they will remain in your party however, if the new character dies or you defeat all the enemies you will loose that character forever. This creates quite the sense of tension and dare I say somewhat attachment to your characters if you loose them, overall there are twenty playable characters in this game all with unique play styles.
Graphics are not great even for the nineties, sprites are very basic and environments are very simple too. Most people will look at this game and not be impressed on a first impression. Looking a little deeper you may appreciate the charm of the small cute character sprites and the one level which contains some japanese looking arcade cabinets.
Music is ok, it probably won't wow you though those fond of the old Mega Drive music capabilities will appreciate the charm of the victory tune after you finish each level.
Gain Ground is a a co op affair and is very satisfying to play with a friend as well as making things a lot easier and fun to come up with strategies to get through each level with different combinations of characters. If you ever play Gain Ground I highly recommend playing it on hard mode as you start with all twenty characters and that's your lot, no continues and no mercy. It just amps up the tension to the game and feels that much more satisfying when you finally conquer it.
Overall, this game may not look like the most prettiest girl at the ball but get to know her and take her on a date or two, maybe even go in for that wonderful first kiss and you may find there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Gain Ground can also be found on the Mega Drive Ultimate Collection for Xbox360/PS3. It can also be found on several Mega Drive collections for PC. A version was also released for the Master System, Sega System 24, TurboGrafix - 16 CD and Wii Virtual Console. So get out there and play this you crazy retrobates.....
Verdict:- Never was the phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover" more appropriate.
Gain ground is old fashioned retro gaming action done in all the familiar ways and if you ask me that's perfectly fine. As I mentioned she won't win any beauty competitions but you will be entertained and have lots of fun.
There are not many titles like this on the Megadrive so treat yourself to something off the beaten track for once.
Second Opinion:- Call me paranoid if you want too but i'm pretty sure everyone involved in the creation of this game never wanted anyone to actually pick it up and try it.
The box art, whilst detailed, is dull. The graphic screenshots and indeed the description on the back cover do very little to make you want to throw cash over a counter to own an original copy. It's just not geared in any way shape or form to entice play. The thing is though... Once you give it a shot, you are hooked!
This is one of those videogames that you simply have to 'try' in order to really see what robots like me are saying. It's pretty great in all honesty and whilst it's not gonna set the world on fire in any genuine way it will make you have fun. So for me it's cool!
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10