by Polly

I'm reviewing this game to give it a little exposure. In my history of gaming I've only met one other person who's ever even heard of this game and that was on the internet. I can't find anyone in the real world who's ever heard of it, let alone played it. It's one of those oddball Genny titles that somehow managed to get overlooked during its time when it had a lot of great things going for it.

Ranger X is a side scrolling action-platformer that feels like a combination of the SNES' Cybernator (another overlooked awesome-fest) and the classic Defender. An odd combination for sure, but the results are quite satisfying.

Ahhhh, the good old days when we didn't need an excuse to hop into a big bloo suit of steel and death to start blowing shit up. The only story you'll need comes from the game's manual. And who cares, right? Alien people came and fucked with your shit, now you're gonna go fuck with their shit. It was good enough back then and there's no god damn reason it shouldn't be good enough now. On with the game!

Hands down, Ranger-X may just be the best looking game on the Genesis. The stages themselves are some of the best background work you'll ever see. They pack a ton of gorgeous palettes, lots of detailed animation, and some unique scrolling techniques I don't believe I've seen anywhere else on the console. The Good Ranger sports a good bit of animation himself, with everything he does packing many more frames of animation than you'll typically see in most action games. Enemy sprites don't fare quite as well and mostly end up looking quite generic and grey, but thankfully most of the bosses are huge and nicely detailed to make up for the general lack of inspiration of the fodder enemy designs. Graphics can take a bit of a hit when the on-screen action becomes too intense, leading to some very ugly sprite flicker. The only nasty blemish on an otherwise great graphical package.

The audio department is certainly no slouch either, providing a lot of nicely composed action pieces to compliment each stage. The stage themes tend to get more and more memorable as the game goes on, so the fact that you may be stuck in a level for a little more than usual isn't always a bad thing. Explosions, gunfire, and laser sounds are exactly what you'd expect from this type of game and as usual don't really stand out, but that in no way makes them bad. Simply adequate.

Ranger-X's control scheme may feel quite daunting at first and it's not without a learning curve, but once you come to grips with it, you'll find that it's quite intuitive for what this game is trying to do. The set-up is similar to other action games, giving you fire, jump, and special buttons, but it's handled differently. A makes Ranger-X fire left, C, fires right, and B uses your special weapon. You use Up to ignite your boosters and in conjunction with left or right to fly in the direction you need to go. It feels weird and hard to control at first, because flight is very floaty, but with time it becomes second nature. Your boosters are limited and will poop out after 5-7 seconds of sustained flight, but they cool down once you hit the ground in under a second so you can get your zoom n' boom back on like nobody's business.

Ol' X's arsenal isn't half-bad either. You start with a standard pea-shooter, which is actually more powerful than it looks, a flamethrower, and a ground bomb that once ignited seems to zoom across the stage for all eternity. Over the course of the game's six stages you'll come across a few more fun weapons to play with and all seem pretty useful at first, but you'll probably find yourself falling back into the twin laser aquired in the game's second stage as it's definitely the most useful and consumes less energy. Not that weapon energy is all that hard to come by, because it fills up anytime you're in light or outside.

Two more interesting pieces of machinery hanging around in Ranger-X's arsenal are the Ex-Up: Indra and the Ex-Up: Eos. The Ex-Up: Indra ends up being the coolest and most useful of the two. It's a cool little bike that you can control independantly (though you don't have to) with the X and Z buttons and always fires when you do. You can utilize it in a few ways by using it to ram enemies who have shields to make them drop them, send it foward to attack and clear out an area up ahead, and you can hop on top of it and just ride it like a skateboard mowing down everything in your path along the way to impress all your friends and that chick you've been trying to nail for two months. You can also press Down while on top of Indra to drop down inside and ride it. When in this mode you have the added benefit of excellent ground speed, a separate health bar which can be extremely useful if you find yourself low on heatlh, and your normal pea-shooter fires double speed while also gaining the ability to to auto-lock onto certain targets. You can also only change the special weapon you're currently equipped with in this mode.

The Ex-Up: Eos isn't quite as fun because you don't really get to control it. It's just a large ship that slowly follows you and randomly shoots a powerful laser at enemies that are in its path. It's a powerful ally and probably will save your ass once or twice here and there, but it could have ultimately been a much cooler addition to the game had it had more interactivity like the Indra.

What kinda sucks about the vehicles is that you don't get to pick which one you want to bring with you on a mission. They're all pre-determined and the stages are kinda built around that vehicle needing to be there. Needless to say, the stages involving the Indra are a lot more fun than the ones involving Eos.

The game contains six stages and they're all mostly straight-forward affairs. Though they all have a different theme and varying enemy sets, the objective remains the same for each one. Every mission has a set number of critical targets that you must hunt down and destroy in order to proceed to that stage's boss. It sounds easy enough and for the most part the targets aren't all that difficult to find (and there's a radar at the top of the screen for even more help), but along with hunting down the critical targets the game will be shoving hordes of fodder enemies down your throat while you're trying to do your job. Action can get pretty intense with the screen being so littered with bullets and enemies and this disappointingly leads to a good deal of slowdown particularly in later stages of the game. The slowdown tends to make things a tad too easy even on the Heavy difficulty setting. Only a couple stages involve having to really hunt down your critical targets which is probably a good thing, because it feels like a decent balance of Johnny Rambo'ing it and Samus'ing it to get through all the game's missions. Bosses come in a variety of forms and all follow pretty standard attack patterns, but the problem lies in their scale of difficulty. The game's first three bosses put up pretty brutal fights (I typically play on Hard or Heavy difficulty), but the last three don't seem to attack as much (or at all in one case) and are only cool because of some of the things they do (reacting to the player). The latter half of the game's highlights tend to come from the near death experiences you'll have while fighting to just get to the boss, rather than the boss itself. A weird fault, but it doesn't completely wreck the game or anything.

Below is a video containing a quick play through the first stage of Ranger-X to give you an idea of what the game looks and feels like.

Ranger-X is definitely worth your time if you want to try a game that does things a bit differently and don't mind a couple faults here and there. It's pretty enough to wanna see it through the end and challenging enough to make you want to come back for more on a higher difficulty.

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