Friday, 9 September 2011


The Japanese are on top of world affairs.

Cal.50. Or Caliber Fifty. Or Caliber.50. Or Cal. Fifty... a 1989 arcade release by Seta. Massacre the Vietnamese enemy soldiers for kicks. Who needs politics?

Cal.50 stars a blond dude, captured by "the enemy" in 1972 after crashing his plane in the jungle. Twenty years later (1992) you break out and go on a rampage, blasting your way through various military compounds killing hundreds of soldiers and destroying tanks, helicopters and planes. I'm sure the United Nations will be proud.

It's is a top town shooter, complete with funky controls built in a similar manner to Smash T.V. (or more appropriately, Smash T.V.'s wartime sequel, Total Carnage). You massacre screens of enemies with your limitless supply of heavy weaponry for maximum points, and a friend can join in to share the guilt in later life. It's an under-valued arcade game - one which I came across purely by accident during my rounds at Sega Retro a few weeks ago. So much for NHL 95!

Cal.50 seems to be a relatively obscure game, partly because Seta no longer exist but partly because they had a good sixteen years to bring the game to a home platform and mostly failed in that task. There is a watered down Sega Mega Drive port, but in one of the greatest marketing moves of the 20th century, it was released exclusively in the US to limited fanfare. So predictably, it's a masterpiece few have played.

Though I use the term "masterpiece" very loosely. It's design is nothing revolutionary and the game itself is extremely difficult, but I found it an enjoyable title nonetheless. The original arcade cabinet was fitted with a bizarre rotating joystick mechanism, in which you move the joystick in the direction you want to go, and twist it to change the direction of fire.

The basic aim of the game is to make it from point A to point B without being killed. You're armed with a machine gun but you've also go got a small arsenal of other weapons, such as a plentiful supply of hand grenades and various short-lived firearm powerups. Every now and then you get to fight a boss, which when defeated, allows you to continue on with your journey.

It's a simple game, and as such, there isn't a lot to say. The premise is simple, but the major obstacle is the sheer number of enemy units dotted around the stage to keep you at bay. It gets pretty hectic at times, with the player forced to move incredibly slowly around the field to make sure you're not shot down.

My major concern with Cal.50 isn't so much its extreme difficulty, but why it chooses to be difficult. It's a frighteningly short game, which, if game understood the concept of levels, would only equate to about four stages long. The swarms of enemies exist solely to hinder your progress, thus creating the illusion that the game is bigger than it actually is. It's a method that is perhaps suitable for the arcades, but not something that would satisfy the average home console gamer of the twenty-first century. You wander through the jungle for a bit, then fall down a hole, climb up and wander through the jungle a bit more. That's your lot.

This would be fine if the game "felt" long and varied but it fails on that front too. Most of the game is green and brown, with quite a bit of repetition in the scenery and only a couple of music tracks. I personally don't really understand why this is - occasionally, like the river section, you can see that Seta had employed some talented artists capable of producing rich, detailed scenery, but it's almost as if the team were fired half way through the game's development

I expect time or cost restrictions got in the way of this one. At one point you're introduced to THREE GIANT SKULL THROWING MONKEYS which could be portrayed as being part of some bizarre yet interesting North Vietnam experiment, but their existence is never followed up or explored after you fill them with bullets. This isn't like Metal Slug where surviving the onslaught will present you with a decent story - Cal.50 seems to just get bored.

And because the game got bored, the ending feels empty. The player doesn't single-handedly stop the regime that kept this bloke chained up - you're just rescued and taken "home", with nobody serving the consequences of their actions. I'd have been far more satisfied if I'd found out North Vietnam were experimenting on the wildlife in an effort to take over the world. Makes a change from the Nazis or the Russians.

But alas, the game doesn't even have the courage to say "this is Vietnam" and "this is the United States of America" - it just expects you to piece together the story in your own non-offensive way. In my opinion, a waste of a perfectly good idea.

There are many "above average but not fantastic" games in the world, and Cal.50 is certainly one of them. A B-List or even C-List title, but by no means a poor experience.

1 comment:

  1. This game was the best of those 3/4 perspective arcade shooters, far superior to the overrated Ikari Warriors or Guerilla War. The sheer number of bullets on the screen at the same time and the constant cows and chickens that you can mow down made it worthwhile alone. And yes, it was damn hard. the soundtrack kicked ass though, and the graphics were colorful and good for their time. Man, sadly I never reached the giant skull throwing monkeys, oh well. My second favorite arcade game to The Ninja Warriors by Taito.