I’ve never really been able to relate with those that identify with brand names, be it the soda they drink, the shoes they wear, or the consoles they play. Maybe it’s because my tastes are so erratic that I kinda always wanted to just play everything, but even independent of that, fanboyism seems like a total waste of effort, a celebration of close-mindedness in a world that already has more than enough.
That said, I do have to admit that I’m a Sega kid at heart; less out of fanatic loyalty and more due to the fact that it simply accounted for most of what I played as a kid. Being handed down a box of consoles from my uncle that included a Commodore 64 and an NES, I still found myself playing Genesis the most. Maybe it’s because it was technically the most advanced system available to me at the time and that alone was impressive to my young mind, but I’d like to think it was also because of the games I couldn’t get anywhere else, and in some cases would never see again.
Gain Ground is the odd case of a Sega classic that is regarded as such, but no one ever really talks about. It’s found its way into just about every Mega Drive compilation ever released, but is never named among the Street of Rages and Phantasy Stars of the world. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that it’s a somewhat awkward mix of genres, presented a way that doesn’t exactly hold up even to the visual standards of its own time, let alone now. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why I originally gave it a chance, unable to remember a time my 10 year old gaming preferences leaned in the direction of tactical overhead strategy shooters, or TOSSes as they’ve come to be known by… absolutely no one, since I made that acronym up just now.
Though not a looker in the least, there is a lot to consider under the hood, as you’re given a limited number of characters broken into Gauntlet-esque classes to either clear a screen of enemies or make it to the exit. Along the way, you’ll find captive allies that you can lead to the exit to add to your roster. If the character you’re currently using is defeated, however, they become another captive you have to save. With a limited party, you can often find yourself in situations where you can only save your previous downed character or risk saving the shiny new guy that may have even better abilities. It creates the same tense moments you’d see in a game like X-COM, where you’re trying to figure out the best course of action for minimal casualties. Maybe you want to start a difficult level with one of your weaker characters so that he can clear a path for one of the stronger ones, or maybe you want to introduce the overpowered rocket launcher guy from the start because he’s the only one that can reach the captive. As with any good strategy game, things can snowball quickly and you could find half of your roster depleted due to one bad move.
It goes without saying that I’ve never beaten Gain Ground, despite probably being one of the games I’ve spent the most time attempting to. Eventually you get to a point where the game expects you to use a rag-tag group of archers and dudes with pointed sticks to fight off an army of laser ninjas. So why do I keep trying?
Perhaps you missed the part about there being laser ninjas.