No pain, no gain!
Many of you out there will more likely remember Gain Ground for the Sega Mega Drive, or perhaps the Master System, where it was released in all regions to critical acclaim. Very few people seem to remember the original 1988 arcade game, and even less people seem to be aware that Gain Ground was also ported to the PC Engine Super CD-ROM in 1992. This SX version is actually more of a sequel to the original game than a straight conversion of the arcade or Mega Drive versions. Gain Ground contains more stages that are now also larger in size, remastered CD music and a host of other new features that make it an even more compelling experience than it already was. I myself was super stoked to play this version, being a really huge fan of the original.
At first glance Gain Ground looks very much like a strategy war game and while there are many strategical elements to it, it’s much more of an arcade style experience. The object of Gain Ground is to lead your band of merry men and woman across a series of action backed battle zones. Along the way you can add more warriors to group but also lose them too. Each character in Gain Ground has their own unique abilities and these can be either physical or weapon-based attributes. At the start of each level you are able to choose which warrior you wish to throw into the fray first. This requires a judgement call on your behalf based on what you can see of the level. On the Mega Drive version of Gain Ground this was much easier with its single screen stages, but the levels on this PC Engine remake scroll so you cannot initially see what may be ahead of you.
The enemies you have to defeat in Gain Ground can either be ground based or up in the ramparts, and sometimes they even hide behind the scenery too! So if you start a level that has a castle with enemies up in the towers, you need to pick a character with a throwing weapon that goes up into the air. To defeat enemies behind bunkers you need a projectile weapon that can be thrown over it and if you start a stage with soldiers running everywhere a warrior with both speed and rapid firing is required to do the job. This is where your selection at the beginning of the level is so important. Once the enemies are gone, you can get all your other heroes through the warzone with ease. New members are acquired by rescuing them from the battlefield, but if an enemy kills you, you lose that character immediately. Another new addition to this version of Gain Ground are boss-like characters, and some of the battlefields feature more than one of these menacing foes. Giant fire breathing demons, dragons and deadly machines await you to further test your fighting prowess.
Gain Ground SX is a wonderfully unique experience on the PC Engine, and it’s a criminal shame that this title never received more attention, let alone got a western release. Moulding an all-action arcade game with a strategy war game is not an easy task without hampering the gameplay in some way, but Gain Ground SX pulls it off with aplomb. The wonderful Mega Drive version pales in comparison to the vibrant visuals, rich remixed sound and more involving gameplay of this PC Engine Super CD-ROM release. The nicely animated sprites, detailed landscapes and well-designed characters are a joy to behold, and this release has the smoothest sounding version of Gain Ground’s excellent soundtrack. Those lucky enough to own a Super CD-ROM or a PC Engine Duo should be putting this game at the very top of their import list. Gain Ground SX is undoubtedly one of my favourite games out there for NEC’s CD system.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC Engine Super CD-ROM (reviewed) ; Publisher: NEC Avenue ; Developer: Sega ; Players: 1 ; Released: 1992 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: N/A