Widely previewed in early 1995, this sequel to what is probably one of the most loved Amiga games ever took almost two more year to actually be released. And when it was, it was received with top ratings in the magazines. Not surprising, because by late 1996/early 1997, the few remaining Amiga users were absolutely desperate for any new releases… if something came with a big name, it better be great, right? In fact, looking back, there are clear indications that the game was finally rushed out, not having received the appropriate care.
turns the original's gameplay upside down. The truly incomprehensible gibberish pseudo story states that after destroying the machine at the end of the first part, the two mercenaries are now either travelling back in time or trapped inside the machine, which in any case may also be broken and the Baron may need help to rebuild it… Any attempt to make sense of those three paragraphs in the manual is destined to fail. In any case, this is the excuse of the two players (one can be controlled by the computer) now being forced to compete against each other.
Each level is introduced by the Baron giving some hints how to reach the exit. This usually involves collecting some spare machinery parts, flipping switches, using keys and the like. For this, as well as shooting monsters or the other player, the Baron awards a final score. Whoever scores higher wins. Levels are short and quick, never taking more than a couple of minutes. This balances out the rather unclear mission descriptions and also ensures that both contestants remain in close proximity the whole time, focussing on the duel aspect.
Being able to shoot (or punch) the other player allows for some nice competition. Lives are not lost this way, though energy reduced to zero disables him for a couple of seconds and also drops all collected mission items for the other player to steal. The impression of rather fluent action is further supported by inclusion of a couple of new character actions, like jumping down from heights or pressing against the walls for cover. The latter being mostly useless, but looking rather cool.
As a game design concept, this all works rather well. The obvious tactic of simply waiting at the level exit, letting the other player take all the risks and then simply ambushing him to take the key and escape first is effectively prevented. While this may be viable for few levels, jumping score thresholds will make the character abilities upgrade, making them tougher and faster. Meaning staying out of trouble will effectively make later levels impossible to master. Apart from the explicit task at hand, limited ammunition needs to be managed, with supplies being available almost always without limit, but only in special places, lending further urgency. Though beyond this concept,is severely lacking in three major aspects.
First, balancing. The rather hectic action hardly leaves room for the duel to be decided based on skill. Everything happens so fast that luck is the main factor. Take the right corridor branch (without a proper map available, of course). Don't get ambushed by a monster unseen due to the rather small splitscreen. With only four out of the original six characters remaining, the differences between them are rather large, and the deciding skill is usually not firepower or toughness, but speed.
Second, coherence. Not even coming back to the plot and initial set-up, what is the deal with those boss fights every few levels in single player mode? Those at least sporting good visual designs, but for gameplay, they offer just the bare minimum of typical spaceship shooter bosses: find out their blind spot / movement rhythm and exploit it.
Third, production value. Most graphical elements have been reused from the first game, with just very light reskinning (the giant hands are now blue…), but without the careful assembly which made the previous game so attractive to look at. Strange colours, completely forgettable music and sparse sound effects are miles below the formidable predecessor, which scored particularly highly in this respect. Even on the technical meta level, the endless loading times when playing from floppies (more waiting than actual playing!) leave a bad impression.
Meaning overall, it seems the Amiga end of life curse has struck again. The game appears to not have been polished, or rather developed beyond prototype phase. For sure, the attempt to produce a sequel which goes new ways instead of just making “more of the same” was an honourable one. Though given the diminishing market, efforts to really make this different concept work must have been considered too high. What remains is the mere idea of a two-player duel game with quick action, but implemented only in a barebones way, with levels designed at minimum effort based on few standard building blocks and overall little variety. Not awful, but certainly not living up to the legacy of its name.