Taito’s original Elevator Action was a decent arcade hit, but sat dormant for over a decade before they would return to the concept in Elevator Action Returns. The original starred a solo agent trying to infiltrate enemy HQs to swipe their top secret docs, and his primary method of exploration was the titular elevators. The combat was basic — he only had a standard handgun that shoots slowly, and the enemies were armed in a similar fashion. Clever players could use the elevators as weapons, or shoot out the light bulbs onto enemy heads, but generally speaking those scenarios are limited. Patience was a major virtue to the mechanics; the elevators would move on their own, so there was a fair amount of standing around fending off rival agents. The sequel retains all of the framework of the first game, but reinvents the gameplay mechanics into something brilliant.
First off, instead of the somewhat glacial pace of EA, Returns fully commits to an action template. The three heroes (two of which can play together in co-op, a wonderful addition!) are doing essentially the same tasks as the spy in the original; descend into levels filled with bad dudes, retrieve info/defuse bombs lurking in red doors, shoot stuff, and get to the end with all of the objectives completed. It’s the execution that has changed. The gameplay is much more fluid, with responsive controls, additional combat options (including tossing grenades, background elements you can shoot, jumping into foes, and upgradable firearms), spectacular level design, a more diverse roster of enemies, and incredible animation that makes everything flow together seamlessly. It hits so many right buttons for me that every trip through the game just gives me massively good feels.
It’s not a perfect game, of course. The version I have via Taito Legends 2 has emulation issues, which removes the machine gun weapon entirely from the game. There’s also some sequences where the game slows down pretty heavily, but I’m not sure if that was in the original or in the emulation. There’s still some waiting around for elevators to catch up to you. A few setpieces run a little long. And there’s instances where the arcade format shows itself with relentless situations that scream “put more quarters in me!” But ultimately Returns stands tall as one of the best arcade games of all time, a marvelous action game, and one of the finest sequels ever made.
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