Name: Action Fighter
Format: Sega Master System
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1987

"Take the motorcycle from "Hang OnTM", equip it with high tech weaponry and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car - and you've got ACTION FIGHTER!" - from the manual.

A reasonably simple title for a reasonably simply game. Action Fighter was a vertically scrolling shooter, which saw the player take control of a variety of machines, as they raced upwards along the screen to tackle a different threat in each level:

  • Round 1: Destroy the 3 attack nuclear submarines "CLARKEN"
  • Round 2: Destroy the 6 missile tanks, "BAROMET"
  • Round 3: TOP SECRET*
  • Round 4: Destroy the 6 anti aircraft tanks, "SPHINX"
  • Round 5: TOP SECRET*

At the start of each round, a briefing page with a picture of the target(s) and the presidents seal would be shown. You would then be dropped into the combat zone - each level began on a vertically scrolling road, with the player viewing from above, in a similar style to Spy Hunter. A small machine gun was fixed to the front of the motorbike that the player drove, but lots of shots must be pumped into the multitude of enemies found in the roads: other bikes, cars, and quite worringly, ambulances.

The aim is not to kill enough enemies or to get to the end (the road scrolls endlessly) but to collect letters. These appear almost randomly on the road for players to pick up, but they appeared more often if the plyaere drove faster. Once you had letters, A, B, C, and D, your bike was transformed into a car, which had double machine guns, and could not be destroyed so easily. When you collected E and F, wings were attacked to the car, and you flew up to take on the rest of the level in the air, against different sets of enemies. Your car-plane could now not only shoot but bomb ground targets. Once you had progressed far enough into the level, it was simly a case of beat the boss to advance to the next level. Later levels were similar almost to the point of being identical, but obviously a lot harder, although some had the player start in the air and land half way through the level.

Although the game was pretty formulaic, it did have a select few interesting features - A timer ticked down from 999 to 0 on ecah level - while it was still ticking, you had infinite lives. When the counter ran out, you only had a few lives left, depending on the amount of points you had accumulated. This encouraged players to drive recklessly about in the bike at the beginning of each level, and show a bit of caution later.

Another innovation (and a great bit of corporate promotion) was the SEGA truck, which would appear periodically on the road while playing. Driving into the back of the lorry would upgrade your car or bike to fire dual missiles, and a rocket which could be used to take down the annoying helicopter enemies, who could not be killed any other way. Sega - maker of fine games and articulated lorries full of missiles since 1965!

The game is pretty difficult, mostly, I think, to compensate for the fact that it was quite short. There was no save or password facility, so you had to play the game in a single sitting. I think I completed it once, but it took so long (I am slightly short of what some would call madskillz.) that I never bothered again.

The game is worth playing through, but probably only once. Grab it if you can find it. The rom is probably reasonably common, and it was released in both card and cartridge format, and may be available still in second hand game shops if there is a good one near you. The rom will of course have save states so you will have a slightly better chance of finishing it.

Sources: I have the game in cartridge format along with my creaky old Master System II.
* - I am getting this straight out the manual, and I can't personally remember what the bosses actually are. Anyone?