A shoot-'em-up for the Sega Mega Drive. But there's none of the usual sci-fi trappings in this one.

In an act of crass commercialism the likes of which have never been seen before or since in the world of videogames, Electronic Arts decided that they could cash in on the media frenzy surrounding the Gulf War by creating a game based around it (their logic must have gone something like "the media are treating this as entertainment, why don't we?"). Desert Strike ("no, not Storm, Strike!") was that game.

The setting was a purely fictional border conflict in the Middle East, where a crazed dictator was holding the world to ransom (as we are informed in standard-issue cheesy digitised cutscenes). You take to the skies in your trusty Apache helicopter gunship and blow things up in the name of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Petroleum. The game must have been quite popular, as it spawned a raft of sequels, including Jungle Strike, Urban Strike, Nuclear Strike, and Soviet Strike.

"What we're looking at is good and evil, right and wrong."
     - President George Bush, sampled by Ministry in N.W.O.

It's not a classic game. It's not an influential game. It's not even really a good game. But, from a combination of ubiquity (which would become an Electronic Arts trademark) and clever marketing, mentioning Desert Strike will elicit nods (and possibly grimaces) of recognition from long-time gamers.

Desert Strike (properly titled Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf and developed by Gremlin Interactive) was, at the heart, an isometric game-view version of the seminal Choplifter. Set in a fictionalized version of the Gulf war of the early 1990's (the demonized dictator is General Kilbaba, and the country is unnamed, but in the Middle East), the player's goal is to pilot an Apache helicopter to destroy various enemy targets (usually publicized targets from Desert Storm, like SAM sites and SCUD missile launchers) and rescue prisoners of war, inexplicably called "MIAs" in the game. (The fact that an Apache lacks side doors or passenger space has been neatly ignored; later games in the series accounted for this oversight by not using an Apache for the POW rescues.)

The Apache's three weapons, for their part, are well-balanced. The machine gun, hydras, and Hellfire missiles nicely balance, as a skilled player will need all three, particularly given the game's severe shortage of ammunition in general.

Before the battle, the player chooses his or her copilot from a handful of choices, with each copilot being rated for accuracy, winch control, and cool under fire. (While the names vary between the versions, there's always one copilot marked "MIA". One can use him after playing through the first stage, quitting, and entering in the password to start the second stage.) After receiving a briefing with a rundown of the various objectives, the game begins. Stages are almost exclusively in the Middle Eastern desert, and basically boil down to "destroy enemies in the way, nail building, carry back MIAs (doing which somehow repairs your armor), search around for ammo reloads, repeat."

Of course, the big thing about this game is that it's hard. It's excruciatingly, frustratingly, tear-out-your-hair, curse-at-the-screen, "I'm-sick-of-this-fucking-game" hard. Some enemies can nail you from offscreen, it's easy to run out of ammo in a firefight, and some of the later objectives are just unfair. Many times, the only way to do things is to fly around, wait until you run into enemies, run away, and hope you can outrun their missiles.

Why might you want to play this game? Well, it's definately a nostalgic classic, there's a lot of challenge to be had, and, with Desert Storm II: Electric Boogaloo possibly approaching come and gone, it's certainly topical.

Why might you not? Well, it's hard as all get out, particularly in its portable versions. It's also fairly short (only four missions).

In any event, this game is a cinch to acquire and play. The SNES, Game Boy, and Genesis versions are all ridiculously common, and the various ports are generally pretty available, as such games go. (The exception is the SMS version.) If you have a choice of any of them, the Amiga version is marginally superior, although burdened with copy protection. If you don't have an Amiga (or a source of cracks for old computer games), the best version is the SNES version.

Alternately, you could play Desert Strike Advance, as it is merely a remix of this game.

I mentioned above that the game was ubiquitous. Given EA's policy of porting games to everything but your toaster, the game was on all of the even marginally viable platforms of the time (excepting, curiously, the NES.) Here is a list of all of the known ports.

  • Genesis - 1992
  • SNES - 1992 - This and the Genesis version were the primary release.
  • PC - 1994 - In 1995, Front Street Publishing released "Desert Strike and Jungle Strike," a budget compilation of this game and its sequel.
  • Amiga - 1994(?) - Shipped on three floppies, this version had slightly better graphics, improved music, and sampled radio chatter. Arguably the best version, if marginally so.
  • Sega Master System - 1992 - Published by Sega, this inferior, crippled version for a defunct system did rather poorly.
  • Game Boy - 1994 - This version (ported and published by Ocean and the other portable versions of the game were significantly more difficult, due to the limited viewing range.
  • Game Gear - 199? - This version was also published by Sega.
  • Atari Lynx - 199? - Published by Telegames, this visually superior (when compared to the Game Boy or Game Gear versions) version of the game is sadly buggy, with poor hit detection and rare lockups.

jmn32 reports that he played a toaster version of Desert Strike. While this version did exist, it was only a prototype; it was axed due to bread damage and limited graphics.

The Desert Strike series would spawn sequels on systems as recent as the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy Advance; EA released Jungle Strike (arguably the pinnacle of the series), Urban Strike (which focused on the various vehicles you could use), Soviet Strike (a visually-stunning flop), Nuclear Strike (the game that basically killed the series), and Desert Strike Advance (a GBA retooling of the original game).

The series spawned a number of imitators, almost all of them abysmal. Notable ones include Future Cop LAPD 2100, MechWarrior 3050, Red Zone, and Air Strike Patrol.

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