Once upon a time — I’m pretty sure it was 1994 — there was a boy who loved his Genesis. He bought lots and lots of games. Sixteen years later, when this boy had become a hulking beast of a man, he looked back on his past. He had seen all the awesomeness that his beloved Genesis had to offer. After the frenzied Lightening Force, exhilarating Shinobi 3, and mind-crushing Ranger-X . . . did there remain a single testosterone title worth playing? Lunchtime raids of the local Funcoland yielded a single, depressing answer: “no”. The well was dry, the Genesis a chapter in his nostalgic past. Our tragic hero shed a single manly tear, quietly resigned to his fate.
But then this man’s world turned upside down. At the nadir of despair, he discovered the world of Granada — developer Wolf Team’s legend of tank operator Leon and his mighty beast of burden, a motorized machine whispered of in late-night tales of terror (and in the cheesy opening cinematic) as
GOD OF AFRICAN CONTINENT
(but some call it GHOST OF SOLDIERS)
Granada is not a refined game. When this cart starts up, the music is brash, the graphics are muddy as all get-out, and the enemy attacks are immediate and unpredictable. The comfort of rhythmic patterns and rote memorization fly out the bedroom window like a sweet evening’s dream, ushering in a nightmare of carnage and chaos. I really felt like I had been thrust into the midst of a wartorn city, prowling the rundown 16-bit streets in a mighty-tiny STEEL-BLUE TANK, firing machine guns and cannon-bursts at other armored artillery units. Giant rollers zoom across the road, pulverizing the Granada! Tank Generators (shades of Gauntlet!) unleash bevies of tanks, each one pelting me with bullets as the DIAMONDS OF DOOM hurl even more death in my direction!
Once I eliminated all the mandatory “kill these to advance” bunkers, a bizarre purple boss began to spin around the screen, pelting me with mortar shells. I had to charge up the Granada’s cannon and blast the hopping bastard whenever it landed on the parking lot . . . sending it to a fiery hell!
The game gets better.
We next find ourselves on an airship, soaring over the countryside. Yes, the Granada tank actually zips around on top of the airship, a sort of “Windy Avenue” if you will. Don’t admire the parallax clouds below, casting shadows across the fresh green fields, but instead just DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY. Blow up the cannons! Tear apart the airship’s engines! Annihilate the assault vehicles! But take care not to fall — that’s right, we really are hundreds of feet in the air. Aim those cannon blasts with care — should the recoil knock Granada off the edge, we won’t get to see the rest of the game!
And that would be a shame. Because it gets better.
The game hurls you into a decaying cybernetic metropolis — the wide, straightforward frame of the airship gives way to narrow, labyrinthine highways atop a futuristic cityscape. You’ll find yourself eluding deadly chasms, eliminating laser cannons, and weaving through pit-strewn highways! Steel machinations hover in the sky, pouring streams of firepower into the screen, constricting your tank’s movement that much more.
It gets better. Every friggin’ level gets better because the game is never satisfied with doing what it’s already done. Few games take their concepts and MAX THEM OUT quite like Granada. You’ll face ingenious bosses — one of them is only vulnerable from behind, so you have to bounce your shots off a reflective wall. You’ll encounter frightening bosses, such as a giant snake-like beast that chases you every which way! And you’ll even fight downright awesome bosses, such as the final opponent who looks too damn sweet to even be in a game this old. But the real showcases here are the levels themselves. You’ll cruise across water and you’ll rumble over rocky earth (the screen even shakes). And yes, the physics vary depending upon the terrain. With each new stage, the mechanized armada spews more firepower than ever before, until the final stage has you dodging fast-paced barrages that belong in a Toaplan shooter! In the meantime, you’ll be maneuvering through dungeons of rock (featuring multiple tiers to travel on) or blasting your way through forests and across rivers, navigating detour upon detour through the marshy maze.
Since each level forces you to destroy a particular number of targets before you can advance, the danger is that players may wander aimlessly while searching for enemies. That was one of the problems with the overhead scenes in Thunder Force 2. That game also featured sequences where players had to destroy a specified assortment of targets. Those scenes weren’t so much about fighting, but rather about memorizing where to go. Granada takes the memorization out by giving you a radar. From the very start, you know every target’s location. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or straightforward — Granada still provides plenty of search-and-destroy challenge. It’s up to you to decide which points to attack in which order — the game is in preparing your battle plans, then eliminating and avoiding the assortment of obstacles in your path! With the knowledge necessary to slaughter your enemies, now you just need the ability.
Fortunately, Wolf Team has provided you — Leon! — plenty of control over the mighty blue TANK. Your machine gun can pelt enemies as you turn onto hi-tech highways, you can strafe while winding and wending through forest paths, you can spit bursts of bullets while retreating down a desert trail — and it’s easy to fire off a giant CANNON BURST in machine-gun midstream. The three-button system didn’t feel natural at first, but I quickly learned to love it.
Granada’s concept is simple. Drive a tank and shoot stuff. The twist is that Wolf Team took their premise and ran with it until there was nowhere left to go. Rarely, whether it be shooter, platformer or puzzler, have I seen developers take their concept and explore every possibility so extensively, so exhaustively. Granada is the game that made Japan sit up and notice Wolf Team — those guys really could make a great action game! It spawned fan imitations (you can find one as a freebie in X68000 World) and washed away the sour taste of the terribly tame FZ Senki Axis. Wolf Team’s later masterwork El Viento was advertised as “from the team that designed Granada!” There’s a very simple reason that this game, an adventure based around the elementary idea of “little tank rolls around and shotz everything up real good”, could have such an effect. The reason? It’s really damn fun.