Imagine, if you will: Contra and its Super sequel have set an amazing precedent for the fledgling Run ‘n Gun subgenre, but the world has yet to taste Contra III‘s crazy missile ride or Hard Corps’ explosive opening with the armored carrier plowing through gasoline barrels at 100 MPH. These are the earliest years of 16-bit, and you’ve either got the NES or you’ve got Midnight Resistance.
In that context, the introductory scene — where you stand atop a jeep gunning down King Crimson’s soldiers while your blonde partner drives — seemed pretty cool. But we no longer live in that world. Today, we’ve already seen Hard Corps and Shattered Soldier. Today, the introductory scene — where you stand atop a jeep gunning down unarmed and helpless soldiers while your blonde partner slowly rolls toward a wall — doesn’t seem quite as cool.
So you jump off the four-wheeled turtle and you see an enemy soldier manning a turret. Keep standing, and the bullets will kill you . . . so, obviously, you lie down. The bullets pass overhead, as they would in Konami’s Contra. You press the shot button, expecting to shoot the soldier. Unfortunately, your bullets fly downwards through the floor instead of flying to the right. You make sure you’re pressing down + right, so that you can shoot to the right while lying down. You press the button again, and the shot . . . flies downwards through the floor. You keep trying, and your bullets keep going in the wrong direction. It is literally impossible to lie down and shoot to the right. Exasperated, you stand and leap through the air, swinging your gun around and hoping that a bullet hits your kneeling foe.
It shouldn’t be this hard. It wasn’t this hard on the NES. These controls truly do suck, and Midnight Resistance appears to be a contender for “most inept Run ‘n Gun of all time”.
Reset the system, but don’t swap out the cartridge just yet! There’s another control scheme if you visit the option menu, which lets you control your character with the D-pad and rotate your gun with the B button. The arcade version used a rotary dial to aim your gun; the Genesis obviously doesn’t have such a dial built into the controller, but the B button is a surprisingly acceptable substitute. There’s a learning curve to this method, but it actually lets you lie down and shoot grunts who are in front of you. This control scheme also lets you get away with stuff that the Contra games never did, such as swinging your flamethrower around like a fiery bolo while running.
This game has some great ideas. On the road to defeat King Crimson and rescue your family, you’ll face a laboratory’s super lightning soldier. Enemy grunts follow you through the air ducts. Tanks come rolling down a wooden bridge (?!) as you run for your life. Alas! There just aren’t enough bullets, there aren’t enough soldiers, and all the big stuff dies far too easily. Even the final boss can be downed in under a minute, which is laughable compared to Konami’s typical bosses. If Midnight Resistance were as action-packed as its eventual 16-bit peers — they foolishly chopped the arcade’s two-player mode — it could have been a classic. In today’s world, it’s just an amusing afternoon diversion.
The music, on the other hand, remains as phenomenal as the day I first heard it.
The music wasn’t always so good. Although the melodies are the same as Data East’s arcade original, the Mega Drive port’s audio quality is tremendously improved; sound channels no longer conflict with each other, the instrumentation is richer, and it’s loaded with vibrant stereo chords. Data East also rearranged a few tunes. In the arcade, the third stage had an original background song, a song with an intriguingly Arabian flair (which really didn’t match the forest scenery). On Mega Drive, they chopped that song and repeated the first stage music. That may sound cheap or lazy — they removed a song and recycled one we’ve already heard! — but that Arabian tune pops up in a new spot: a climactic sunset battle against an entire squadron of jets. This is where that song belonged. It’s a testament to how music can change the emotion behind a battle from “here’s the next boss” to “epic encounter”.
Speaking of epic encounters, after breaking into King Crimson’s base and hosing down soldiers with gouts of flame, I came across a blank video monitor. It sparked to life, and the wicked kingpin appeared.
“HA HA HA WE HAVE YOUR FAMILY” boasted King Crimson’s huffing face.
I then saw my family chained in his prison, the moment heightened by an amazing song. Reverberating chords conveyed an otherworldly atmosphere, punctuated by drumbeats that felt like disturbingly powerful heartbeats, before kicking into a fast-paced battle theme with one goddamned heroic bridge. My sister begged for help; my grandfather lamented the consequences his research had wrought.
King Crimson returned to the screen, his pudgy puffing face mocking me as though he were an energetic Colonel Kurtz. “KEEP COMING! YOU AND FAMILY WILL DIE!”
After the video ended, I was ready to burn some ass. But first, I had to make it past an enormous battleship — a battleship spanning the length of two screens, decked out with about twenty gun turrets.
Moments like those are what make Midnight Resistance worth experiencing.