Don’t think, for a second, that modern developers and indie creationists have the market cornered on games that ask you to memorize a series of patterns to survive. Sure, maybe the nonsense of I Wanna Be the Guy brought it front and center, but companies have been doing this for decades. Remember, in the times before the home console market destroyed public locations, arcade games existed for one reason and one reason only: to rob you blind, twenty-five cents at a time. Problem is, by the time the 80s rolled around, people finally got wise to the fact that the basketball would never fit in the hoop, and carnivals weren’t the prime location to lose all your money anymore. So some great folks got together and figured that, if you could just get a little better each time, your average ten-year old would gladly waste a month’s paper route money on the right game. It’s this kind of mentality that I believe gave birth to Shoot Out, the latest arcade port from Johnny Turbo and Flying Tiger Entertainment.
Shoot Out takes the classic arcade shooter concept and gives it a wildly interesting twist by putting you in the shoes of someone who is clearly associated with organized crime. It’s not one of those cool games where you’re a member of SWAT or a cop who’s too old for this shit: the best case scenario, given your clothes and pistol, is you’re an undercover police officer on the border of Serpicoing yourself. In any case, you’re on the streets of some city that I wanna say is New Jersey, and you’re trying to be killed by almost everything in the world, from the actual, unapologetic gangsters who stroll up intending to shoot you to random people popping out of windows to hurl potted plants. As an arcade shooter, technically the most important thing is to survive, but we all know the most important thing is actually to shoot the ever-loving hell out of everything that can take a bullet. I mean, bad guys, sure, but why not street signs, traffic lights, merry-go-rounds and awnings as well? But not civilians! Like all great street wars, there are a huge number of civilians inexplicably wandering out into the night where there’s a ton of gunfire, and shooting them is a massive no-no. So, you know, do your best to distinguish between the regular guy who wants to kill you and the helpless woman or child in the street at what looks like midnight on a Thursday.
Since Shoot Out doesn’t use a light gun or anything like that, you’re actually playing this shooter from the perspective of a 3rd person side scroller with artificial depth and angles. Your gun has unlimited bullets and a reasonable reload rate, but isn’t some kind of newfangled semi-automatic thing. I think your character having a tommy gun would have been hilarious and also awful in the same swing, as civilian casualties would rise about 400%. Since the other guys also often have guns, you have two real moves: walk from side to side, or do a dramatic diving roll to get out-of-the-way. You can also crouch, sometimes, but I never figured out exactly how that happened; it just sort of triggered when I fired and held a button on occasion. Usually Johnny Turbo is great at outlining these things in the control diagram, but not so much this time. Anyways, you wanna shoot as much as you can, racking up a high score and basically waiting for the level to end, which had a fixed time but wasn’t exactly clear what that was since there’s no visible timer. For example, in the first level, you can watch the streetlights in the distance slowly go out, and, when the last one was extinguished, the level was over. Not the most reliable situation, but better than just crying and praying. Seven levels of firefighting await, and then you…restart from the beginning. Much like Express Raider, this game is all about just playing, but with more variety at least in terms of levels: no so much in gameplay.
There are some cool things about Shoot Out that I appreciated. Firstly, the graphics are sufficiently oldschool, having this title originate about 1985, but they aren’t too blocky or decrepit to not appreciate the underlying aesthetic. By having the characters with just a bit of depth in their appearance and angles, it allows for the eight-way joystick positioning to really work. And there’s actually a great variety of mobsters and thugs to take out, which feels unprecedented for this time. The first time you realize that the door to the bar is opening and you have the ability to shoot the guy before they even make their appearance is pretty damn sweet, and taking out the mafioso creeping out of the park from what appears to be sixty feet is just genuinely awesome. Then, to have an honest-to-goodness drive by happen in your general direction and to survive by sheer luck is exhilarating. When you get into the game, you’re really and truly into it.
But the eight way aiming can sometimes come back and bite you, as Shoot Out proves again and again. The generation of enemies isn’t randomized, it does follow a pattern, so you don’t have to worry about enemies spawning differently when you ultimately have to restart. However, by this logic, you also need to commit to where certain mobs will pop up, and when, because you may only have a second before the tables have completely turned. Gangsters who crop up in the corners can be difficult to reach because your auto aim will default towards the horizon and not immediately left or right. You get into the habit of hedging your bets on which side is more likely to have a bad guy come into being, and, eventually, you’ll just know which side to roll towards so that you can be ready for it. Your score is only cumulative as long as you don’t lose all three lives, so it can work out fairly well for high score hunters, as long as you’re ready.
The only real downside of Shoot Out is the tinny audio and incredibly simple soundtrack. Far from some of the more engaging or exciting tracks that we’ve heard from arcade titles of this decade, Shoot Out sounds distinctly more like an NES title, with little more than bleeps and bloops with primitive chiptune to keep things moving. It contrasts very strongly with the arcade experience, and I would recommend players mute the sound and play something else during this time. Pop on House of the Rising Sun and pretend you’re playing a prequel to Mafia: it works out surprisingly well.
Overall, Johnny Turbo has selected a fairly decent and enjoyable relic to bring back to life on the Nintendo Switch. While you can get through the entirety of the story in less than 20 minutes with accuracy, the high scores you can rack up through creative shooting and background management make it a fun one to revisit when you’ve got the itch to perpetrate multiple acts of bloodless violence. Collectors and retro enthusiasts will find enjoyment and excitement within, and even less enthused players will cop some fun from the wacky scenarios and expectations.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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