With strong production values but little substance, Angry Mob‘s Guerilla Bob is a game without much staying power. The game’s story mode takes only an hour or two to complete, then unlocks a Survival mode. Sadly, even with the Survival mode there’s not much reason to come back to this one after finishing it.
Guerilla Bob is an arcade game with progressive levels masquerading as a dual-stick shooter. I say “masquerading” because the game borrows the dual-stick control scheme — a stick providing 360 degrees of movement, a stick providing 360 degrees of firing and buttons for switching weapons — without ever aspiring to the franticness inherent in the dual-stick shooter genre. At most, you will deal with only four or five enemies on screen at a time, and it’s rare to have even that many.
What Guerilla Bob most reminds me of is top-down 8-bit shooters like Ikari Warriors, or the top-down sections of the original Bionic Commando. But even those games, now more than 20 years old, displayed more ambition than Guerilla Bob.
Before I go any further, let me first say that Guerilla Bob is not a bad game. It looks nice and it plays nice, but provides a short and utterly forgettable experience. It’s a lot of hype and little delivery. The game plays out over eight linear, nearly identical levels and offers up only a handful of different enemy types. There are three pretty standard weapons: a machine gun, a rocket launcher and a flame-thrower, which can be upgraded during the course of play. The marketing jargon amounts only to so much jargon. It promises “FAST-PACED SHOOTER COMBAT”, and yet the game’s pacing is actually fairly pedestrian. It promises “KICK-A*S WEAPONRY”, but the included weapons are pretty typical. It promises “SECRET AREAS AND POWER-UPS”, where “secret areas” are usually just short side-paths off the main road leading to weapon upgrades, medals for extra points, or time-limited damage, defense or speed multipliers; an item sitting behind a building doesn’t qualify as a secret area in my mind. It promises “EPIC BOSS FIGHTS”, and while the bosses are larger than the standard soldiers, there’s nothing epic about them. The bosses are bigger, but follow the exact same patterns as their smaller counterparts and fall pretty easily. It promises “A VARIETY OF GAMEPLAY MODES”, amounting to a story mode with two difficulty levels — “Easy” for babies, and “Hard” for normal people — and a disposable Survival mode that’s hardly worth unlocking. In saying this, I’m not accusing it of being a bad game, but I do find the advertising lines to be somewhat misrepresentative of the actual playing experience.
The throw-away story pits Guerilla Bob against his childhood friend turned nemesis John Gore, from Mountain Sheep‘s MiniGore. In fact, Guerilla Bob spends so much time imitating MiniGore that it effectively fails to establish any identity of its own. During play, Guerilla Bob often shouts out Minigore-esque quips in a futile attempt at humor. And the inclusion of John Gore is laughable; Gore is a character who gets a lot more mileage than he deserves when you consider that the entirety of MiniGore is nothing more than a single, glorified Survival Mode. Mountain Sheep ought to spend less time pimping Gore out to other developers, and more time building content into their incomplete game, but that’s an entirely different editorial … My point is simply that rather than borrowing its identity from another title, Guerilla Bob would have been better off establishing a mythology all its own.
Visual Presentation: Guerilla Bob’s strongest asset is definitely its visuals. Presented in stylistic top-down 3D, the game looks fantastic. The artwork is cartoony, but well-suited to the overall feel of the game, like a kid-friendly version of Rambo. It’s probably one of the best looking games of its type, and offers a consistent aesthetic throughout the experience that holds the game together.
Audio Presentation: Effort clearly went into the audio components of the game, which I appreciate. Far too many developers — even those of upper tier titles — neglect the importance of in-game audio (Soosiz and MiniSquadron, I’m looking at you). While I think Guerilla Bob’s MiniGore-esque quips fall flat, it’s nice to see Angry Mob trying, and the original musical score is a nice inclusion, though nothing I’d go looking for as a soundtrack purchase.
Progressive Stages: While most dual-stick shooters favor the open arena model, it’s nice to see a new entry providing progressive stages with “scripted” scenerios and boss fights. I think Guerilla Bob could have taken this a lot further than it actually does, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Achievements: As you play through Guerilla Bob, your accomplishments will unlock in-game achievements. I’m a big fan of goals in games, and of in-game achievements by extension. The game also takes advantage of Chillingo’s Crystal network, a service similar to OpenFeint, Agon or Plus+ which allows you to save and compare your achievements against others.
Available Difficulty Modes: The Easy mode is way too easy, like baby easy. The Hard mode should have been labeled as Normal, and a third, more brutal difficulty setting would have been appreciated for the hardcore. Even on the Hard difficulty, I think dual-stick aficionados are going to find this one pretty easy.
John Gore: There are now so many characters in MiniGore that John Gore is barely integral to his own title, let alone as an inclusion in others. Guerilla Bob’s inclusion of such a disposable character only further compounds its own disposable nature, and borrowing so much of its identity from another game — a that game barely a complete experience — ultimately waters the title down. On finishing Guerilla Bob, it even suggests that to get “John Gore’s side of the story”, you should go play MiniGore. I actually laughed out loud. MiniGore doesn’t have a story … Prediction: the next MiniGore update will add Guerilla Bob as a playable character.
Survival Mode: The story mode being so short, the Survival Mode is an obvious bid at extending the playability of the title. Unfortunately, the survival mode becomes tiresome far too quickly. In my time with the mode, I never saw more than five enemies on screen at a time. If I want to play a Survival shooter, I’d be more likely to pick up something like … well, MiniGore honestly. Something frantic rather than plodding. Guerilla Bob’s survival mode just doesn’t provide enough incentive to keep returning to the game.
Repetition: Despite it’s progressive stages, Guerilla Bob ultimately feels pretty repetitive. The same art assets get reused in every stage to the point where the stages tend to run together. The biggest differential from one stage to the next is that some are daytime and some at night. Otherwise, you will follow the road through each stage, passing by recycled scenery and fighting the same enemies over and over again. It’s like one stage played eight times over with minor variations.
Guerilla Bob’s conclusion nods to the likelihood of a sequel, and it’s a game with much greater potential than it ever actually realizes. My only hope is that when the sequel comes, it brings more to the table than eight nearly identical stages and a handful of similar enemy types. For the sequel, Angry Mob should focus on delivering a more action-packed experience, with globe-trotting stages taking us through jungles, deserts, canyons, caverns, villages, towns and enemy compounds. Look to games such as Contra for inspiration in settings. The enemies we’ve already seen make the basis for standard enemy types, but should be more varied in appearance to match their setting: jungle soldiers in jungle levels, desert soldiers in desert levels, etc. In addition to these enemy types, add jeeps, tanks, helicopters, land mines, grenade tossers, bayonet and machete soldiers, snipers and attack dogs. Bosses in Guerilla Bob look different, but behave the same: without exception, they chase you and shoot. For truly epic boss battles, look to pattern-based opponents from old-school action games. Pit Guerilla Bob against a wall of fortified turrets, larger-than-life super-soldiers with special attacks, and opponents who in one way or another utilize unique environments in their attack patterns. If 8-bit developers could exercise such creativity on the NES, then I’m certain such feats are well within the realm of possibility for a Guerilla Bob sequel.
There are moments throughout Guerilla Bob when the game hints at brilliance in its design. Sadly, these moments are too brief and too few, but I’d like to cite them in the hope that Angry Mob will lend an ear and pay more mind to such moments in future games. The first is the bulldozer chase, in which an enemy comes up behind Guerilla Bob and pursues him through an obstacle course of boulders. The second is late in the game, where three bridges span a river; Guerilla Bob takes the center bridge while enemies attack from the bridges on either side. And the last is even later in the game, where Guerilla Bob rides a raft down a river while enemies attack him from the shore. These moments break the monotony of the stages, and help to vary the action that’s so uniform throughout the rest of the game. Any sequel to Guerilla Bob should play these variations to greater effect and provide more of them.
Back to the present and the game immediately at hand, Guerilla Bob is briefly entertaining and technically impressive. The game is short on lasting appeal, and leans too heavily on MiniGore, but is nonetheless worth a look. A dual-stick stick shooter for casual gamers, Guerilla Bob is best taken in short spurts over time. Hardcore players tending to devour games in one or two sittings will quickly tear through the game and leave it in their dust.