Released near the height of arcade gaming’s golden age, Taito’s Elevator Action was an instant hit. In the years that followed, it became rightly recognised as having earned its place in the pantheon of hallowed video games.
Sequels followed, but none captured the excitement of being in an elevator quite like that initial release. Smartly then, Deluxe developer Square Enix has included a perfect port of that 1983 classic with their remake, but unfortunately for them, direct comparisons don’t do their new product any favours at all.
For the uninitiated/those under 35, in Elevator Action the player controls a spy tasked with infiltrating enemy skyscrapers and stealing secret documents cunningly hidden behind bright red doors. Entering each building from the roof, he makes his way down all 30 floors of the building utilising elevators and escalators, avoiding, shooting or jump-kicking enemy spies who emerge at random. Once this is achieved, a quick escape to freedom in a sweet red sports car follows.
Along with baddies, lights are also able to be shot, sending them plummeting onto hapless enemies below and plunging the area into temporary darkness. A game from an era when button-presses per minute mattered, and finishing a game was about as common as tasteful clothing and hairless upper lips (on men), Elevator Action is a punishingly difficult, strangely addictive title whose gameplay still holds up beautifully today.
Elevator Action Deluxe looks to expand on this decades-old foundation by adding a faux-3D look along with a number of new inclusions. There's rag-doll physics courtesy of the Havok engine, a small cache of weapons which are found behind specially marked doors, a choice of male or female spy, exploding barrels, a health bar, platforming, a time limit rather than a life restriction, multiplayer options, and a variety of enemies.
Many smaller tweaks have been made too; the player may now take refuge behind any door (and indeed must do so often to survive) and control when they emerge, killing any nearby baddies with a door edge to the face. Crucially, it is also now possible to crouch when riding an elevator so those on the next floor down won’t always get the drop on the player by shooting him or her in the foot. At its core Deluxe is the same game, it has just ridden a magic elevator two decades into the present.
Unfortunately all of these great new features are undermined by several game-breaking bugs. The most obvious one is the jumping mechanic. Deluxe features an absolute ton of gap-traversing but sadly the character’s jump responds sluggishly to say the least, and falling down a level results in instant death rather than trimming one of the spy’s three health blocks. No amount of compensation helps here either – some platforms are so small the spy barely fits on them, so jumping off these becomes little more than an exercise in lemming simulation.
Other gameplay wrinkles will see the player’s life unfairly and abruptly cut short too. Elevators will squish players that are clearly nowhere near them, enemies can avoid fire by going prone yet the player cannot, and an accidental tap of up on the D-pad when not over a door will send the spy into a shrug animation which makes him or her an easy target for the second or two it takes for control to return.
The most annoying bug concerns explosions. They are simply too big, usually killing everyone unlucky enough to be on the same floor as the source at detonation, which to those familiar with how the original plays will be nigh on unfathomable. With rocket launchers, barrels and bombs at the disposal of both the player and the enemy, such events are frequent too. The AI thinks nothing of sacrificing itself by shooting a barrel that is a foot in front of it, even if the player is just entering that floor at the other end of the screen. Difficulty is one thing, but not being given an opportunity to avoid such deaths is unforgivable.
Further, whilst some new enemies such as the snipers, bomb-layers and MG-toting mercenaries are welcome additions, the indestructible robots are just annoying and a poor fit for the Elevator Action universe, and the Bond-biting theme song is no substitute for the jaunty original.
It’s all a damn shame really, because the melee, co-op and most other additions work well, as do puzzle elements which have been introduced in the form of lever-controller trapdoors and barricades.
However, with its poor collision detection, moronic AI and sloppy controls, Deluxe plays more like a rough proof of concept than a full release from a respected studio and as such, is about as fun as a fart in an elevator.
Do yourself and the industry a favour and seek out the original.