09/07/2013

OPERATION LOGIC BOMB (SNES)

I'm not doing this on purpose, you know. I never intended for VGJunk to become a shrine-cum-mausoleum to middle-of-the-road developer Jaleco, but here we are again. In my defence, I felt like playing a top-down shooter and remembered that I'd played today's game before and rather enjoyed it. I just forgot it was made by Jaleco, that's all. It's the 1993 SNES title Operation Logic Bomb!


I'm impressed already, that's a nice-looking patch of blasted dystopian desert. Our protagonist is wearing knee-high boots, a sleeveless boiler suit with matching gloves and a motorcycle fuel tank on each shoulder, so we know he's ready for action. I think I'll call him Johnny Spacegun.


Johnny Spacegun is different from the ordinary run of man, and not just because of his dress sense. As the intro demonstrates, he's a highly-advanced cyborg, or possibly a neon sign come to life.


He also has a thrillingly thick and lustrous head of hair, something that I'm sure is vital to the combat effectiveness of any futuristic robo-warrior. It's all part of an effort to get the player invested in Johnny Spacegun's survival. It'd be a crime to let that barnet be destroyed, a tragedy from which the human race may never recover. Do you want that on your conscience? No? Well you'd better bloody well complete this game, then.


And what a game it is. As mentioned, Operation Logic Bomb is a top-down shooter, albeit one that has more in common with the slightly more methodical destruction of Gauntlet than the full-on, balls-to-the-wall murderfest of something like Smash TV. Johnny Spacegun, whose real name is apparently "Agent Logan," has arrived at a seemingly deserted research facility in order to investigate where all the scientists have gone. Suspecting that the researchers have fallen to madness after explaining for the thousandth time that their particle accelerator will definitely not spontaneously generate a miniature black hole when activated, Johnny Spacegun enters the compound the only way he knows how - bullets first.


The hot-blooded action doesn't let up for even one moment as our hero encounters no enemies and even walks past some barrels! Okay, so I'm being facetious. Operation Logic Bomb is trying to set up an atmosphere and build some ambience by having Johnny poke around the eerily empty base. It's almost Super Metroid­-ish in tone, and that's not the last time I'll compare this game to Super Metroid, either. Don't get too excited, though. Remember that this is a Jaleco game, after all.


After a bit of exploration, you'll come across an electric lobster hanging from a power supply. You can shoot it! With your gun! Hell, you even have a choice of guns to use, and at the start of the game you can switch between a rapid-firing machine-gun and a slower, shorter ranged 3-way spread shot. It's a nice combination to have, the two most useful blades on the penknife of selectable videogame armaments, the knife and the corkscrew of plasma weaponry.


Destroying the electric lobster restores the power, the lights come back on and you get to have your first proper fight against some robots. While they may look tough, given that they've expanded the "knee-high boots and shoulderpads" combat uniform to include forearm protectors and a helmet, they're not the fastest CPUs in the robo-army and they seem to lose track of you pretty quickly once you back away from them for a while. Operation Logic Bomb may not incorporate my beloved two-stick control system, it does at least allow you to move and shoot in different directions by holding down the R button to lock your firing angle.


Scientists, much like pet rodents, must be kept stimulated and so as with all scientific installations in videogaming, OLB's research facility is a bit of a maze. Waiting in the centre of the maze is a mechanical crab. Looks like I've solved the mystery of the disappearing researchers, then: they created an artificially intelligent cyber-crab which soon gained sentience and, crabs being the most naturally violent creatures in the animal kingdom, immediately killed all the scientists.
The crab's a boss, although not a very challenging one. It can fire quite a lot of bullets, but if you keep your distance and use the longer range of the machine gun to your advantage, you should be able to dodge its attacks fairly easily.


When you kill the crab, you get a cutscene. I know, I wasn't expecting a top-down SNES shooter to have anything even vaguely resembling a plot, but there you go. There's no text or subtitles, just a video of the villainous cyborgs going about their villainous duties, with the player left to decipher what's going on. As far as I can tell, the bad guys arrived at the research facility and dropped off this generator thing. The generator creates "Dimensional Errors" (those hexagons on the floor) which allow more troops to travel through, or they connect to a digital world, or something.
I have to say, I'm rather impressed. Jaleco have tried to inject OLB with a little narrative goodness, and so far it's paid off - this first recording got my attention, and hopefully piecing together the events that transpired at Robo-Crab Outpost through these messages will keep my interest levels high.


A little further on, I found that generator thing. For all OLB's efforts to craft a story, it's still a shoot-em-up and the correct reaction to finding the generator is to fill it with bullets, or in this case glowing blue orbs. Then it explodes, the dimensional errors disappear from the surrounding area and a teleporter becomes active, allowing you to progress further into the facility.


Further cutscenes reveal that there are more crabs and more error generators, just in case you thought the mystery was solved by blowing up that one piece of alien tech.
That's the basic structure of Operation Logic Bomb, then. Travel through the facility, removing the dimensional errors by locating and destroying the generators, which in turn gives you access to more areas. It's rather more involved than the usual "kill everything, level ends" shoot-em-up, and the fact that there are areas you can't get to until you've located a specific item give it just enough exploration that I can compare it to, yes, Super Metroid, even if only very, very loosely.


So on goes Johnny Spacegun, stalking the corridors with the panther-like reflexes of a veteran cyber-soldier, pausing occasionally to do battle with some angry blue dustbins. There are sentry turrets bloody everywhere in this game, popping out of the floor every five steps or so, and in a game that isn't exactly overflowing with different enemy designs the turrets stand out as being especially abundant.


Here's an example of the kind of exploration and "puzzle solving" needed to advance. I have to shoot that control panel in order to get the door open, but Johnny Spacegun's rugged, manly physique is too wide at the shoulders to allow him through that narrow gap. What's that? Couldn't he just turn sideways and shuffle in there, because that gap really isn't all that narrow? Well yes, probably, but then that would stop you from enjoying the thrilling "walk back to use the teleporter" gameplay!


The first teleporter actually has more than one destination, which might have been confusing had my fumbling, uncoordinated nature not caused me to accidentally step on the teleporter twice the first time I used it. This put me near the item I unknowingly needed to continue, thus accidentally eliminating one of the few bits of exploration that OLB throws your way and shaving ten minutes off an already very short game. Oops.


The item in question is a laser gun with shots that bounce around corners. It's yours to keep forever, you can switch to it any time, and it even comes with a handy video demonstrating how to use it.


It's extremely useful, and the threat level of the dustbin sentries drops from "considerable" to "toothless chihuahua" the moment you collect it.


This is the most mentally taxing puzzle in the game, by the way. I'm not complaining - I came into this looking for a shoot-em-up and by and large Operation Logic Bomb delivers that experience with a light sprinkling of other elements, but if you're after something some intellectually involving you're going to have to look elsewhere. If I mislead you by comparing it to Super Metroid, I can only apologise.


Hey look, another boss shaped like a crab. Why crabs, of all things? Is there something about the anatomy of a crab that lends itself especially well to becoming a mechanical kill-bot? I could maybe buy that the many legs of a crab give it added stability and traction, but these crabs don't even have any legs.


This epidemic of robotic crabs is getting out of hand. You know, that sounds like something an android sex worker might say. That's not what I meant. I meant hey, look, another robot crab! This one's outside and he's using a generator to turn parts of the landscape into the kind of wireframe scenery found in the cyberpunk movies of the Eighties!
It's actually quite a while before you get to go outside, which I thought was a nice touch. The brief cutscenes do provide some fun foreshadowing, although the effect is somewhat diminished once you've figured out that the foreshadowing is pretty much always the shadow of a big robot crab.


Now seems like a good time to mention the gameplay, which is - drumroll, please - decent. Johnny Spacegun moves smoothly enough if a little slowly, holding R to lock your firing direction works fine, and the collision detection is okay but there's nothing especially innovative or exciting at work. Enemies can get a lot of hits in but you have a decently-sized health bar so it balances out, and while their AI is hardly stellar it's enough to keep you on your toes and promotes the idea of forward planning - if you can find a way to hit enemies with the rebound laser from around a corner or two, you're golden, so maybe I was a bit hasty in saying that  first laser puzzle was the most thinking you'll have to do during Operation Logic Bomb.


For me, the presentation is where the game shines. When it comes to the graphics, like the gameplay, you'd struggle to call them much more than "decent" but they're decent in a specific way that I personally like very much, an early-Nineties cybernetic aesthetic of thick power cables, blinking LEDs and bold numbers marking different sectors. It's a personal preference and therefore I suppose I can't simply say outright that it looks great, because I'm sure there are people out there who think it looks dull, faded and repetitive, but I really like it.



The music is also pretty spot-on, perfectly complementing both the action and the visuals. This is the "Base A" theme, and as you'll be hearing it for the whole first third of the game it's a bloody good job it's so catchy. The rumbling bassline gives it a great feeling of drive, but I think it's the instrument choices that really make this one. Those drum noises are great.


Anyway, back to the game. I stumbled across a pile of charred corpses and a robot arm, and given OLB's attempts at weaving a narrative it's no surprise that touching the robot arm shows you footage from the original soldier-charring event.


Well, I'd say that thing's just about crab-shaped. It's definitely got crab-like claws, at least, even if its overall shape puts one in mind of a ladybird. A heavily-armed ladybird without remorse or compassion, true, but it's still a bit adorable.
The video also shows one soldier doing it some damage by shooting its claw with a flamethrower, thus kindly informing me that I'll be both fighting this thing and getting a flamethrower at some point in the future. Thanks, Operation Logic Bomb.


Well whaddya know, a flamethrower was locate not a minute's walk from that cutscene. The flamethrower has a short range, but it's powerful and it clings to walls, allowing it to travel around corners. I used it a lot. Not because it's really any more useful than the laser or even the standard machine gun, but because I think I might be a violent psychopath who likes setting things on fire.


The ladybird boss is less adorable when you're fighting it, because it's a difficult fight that gives you very little room to manoeuvre. Notice that it starts the fight with only one claw, tying in with the video from before.


Now Johnny's outside, which would be a nice change of pace if the sentry sentry turrets hadn't evolved a thick rock coating that prevents me from setting them alight unless they've opened up to shoot me. Still, the gimmick of this area is pretty neat - the scenery is made up of wireframe hologram... things, and can only be restored to its correct state by killing a wave of enemies and collecting the mini-generators they drop. It's a nice idea, and it genuinely looks cool as the world is redrawn each time.



Also cool is the music for this area, with more pounding drums and a strange synth-chorus instrument that give it the feel of a chase through a church from some never-released RPG.


Back inside and it's more of the same - teleporters to activate, generators to destroy, secret weapons hidden behind seemingly solid walls that you can just walk right through.


Yep, a new weapon. A cheap, overpowered weapon that fires homing rockets. It's a shame it's hidden away with no clues as to its location, because the ability to damage enemies with heat-seeking rockets while Johnny concentrates solely on evasion becomes almost mandatory for success by the end of the game.


The missiles are also useful if you get lost, because they home in on important areas of the background. I didn't know how to get out of this room until I fired off a few rockets and they headed for this corner, which in turn made me realise I had to use the flamethrower to ignite this oil and blow open a path. Call of Duty: Ghosts can keep its dog, I've got rockets with a similar level of intelligence, plus they're packed with high explosives.


I found a decoy, too. Simply press Y and a holographic Johnny appear to distract your foes, although years of playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors mean that I was disappointed it didn't produce a laughing inflatable clown for the robots and slimes to tear asunder. The decoy is very handy, so it's a shame that you don't get it until the game's nearly over, but I got plenty of use out of it while I could.


Again, I could have easily taken out these golden robots without putting myself in danger by using the homing rockets, but the fiery whoosh of the flamethrower is a siren call that I cannot resist.


Another cutscene, this time showing a scientist standing on a frisbee and turning blue. This arcane ritual somehow allows him to travel through the dimensional errors, so look out cyber-crab homeworld because as soon as I find that frisbee I'm coming to finish this.


I used the spread gun for a bit. It felt bad, kinda... wrong. I quickly returned to the flamethrower, and to her credit she forgave me for my transgressions without so much as a harsh word. In fact, all she said was buuuurrrnn themmmmm.


Here the crabs are bigger, meaner, snippier, but they do at least provide you with walls to hide behind. I sure hope you found the homing rockets, because you'll struggle without them
That robo-crab has a very appealing design, I must say. Chunky and detailed, plus it's got those circular lock-with-handle things on it, a true hallmark of Nineties robot design. What are those things called, anyway? Answers on a postcard, please.


I found the frisbee and now I am blue. It's time to enter the Tron and defeat the mainframe by riding a glowing motorcycle around it (I haven't seen Tron in roughly two decades).


Welcome to Hexagonia, land of the robot crabs. It looks suitably whoa-dude-you've-entered-the-machine-y with a hint of a Giger-esque influence on some of the platforms, even if all the enemies are the same bipedal robots and gloopy slimes as before. That's one of my biggest criticisms of Operation Logic Bomb - there are very few enemy types and they quickly become very repetitive to look at, let alone fight. I lost track of how many times I fought that same hovering crab boss, and it's hard to cheerlead for a game that has made me never want to see another robot crab again (or for, like, a week or so at least).
The machine world doesn't last long, and soon enough you'll be facing off against the final boss.


The final boss is not, I repeat, is not a giant robot crab. Bet you didn't see that coming, did you? Instead it's a big tank, or whatever you call a tank so big that can't move. A castle, possibly. He's got tiny tanks to act as minions, endless waves of kamikaze slimes to send into battle and a cannon that shoots green lightning, and he's a bit of a nightmare to defeat. Johnny Spacegun isn't particularly nimble, and it's difficult to get any hits in if you're concentrating on evasion.
You also only have three lives to clear the whole game, and if you die you have to start the fight again from the beginning. Use up all your lives and that's it, back to the title screen to start again. OLB isn't a long game, but the lack of passwords or even continues is rather aggravating.


With the application of enough rocket the boss will be destroyed, leaving only the task of shooting these last three generators to finally end the interdimensional menace. The scientists look on, unable or unwilling to offer any words of encouragement. They could have at least grabbed a spanner or something and given the things a whack. They might have stopped all this before it started, the lazy bastards.


Never mind, the world is saved so I suppose it all worked out, and Johnny can congratulate himself on a job well done as the virtual world is restored to normality. Mind you, he's a cyborg so maybe they didn't program in a self-congratulation routine. Tell you what, I'll do it for him. Thanks, Johnny - you're a credit to immaculately-coiffured cybernetic killing machines the world over.


I like Operation Logic Bomb, I really do. The gameplay's fun, only occasionally "exciting" but still above the average, with different weapons that actually have unique applications depending on the situation and some light exploration to stop it from just being a dash for the exit. As I mentioned, I love the presentation, and while the graphical style and art design might just be very close to my own personal tastes, I think anyone would agree that having the story gradually unfold through the short cutscenes is a very nice touch.


However, this is a Jaleco game, and that means there are flaws to discuss. Frustratingly, the only real problem with OLB is a lack of ambition. With more enemies, more areas, more items and more focus on puzzles or at least using the right items in the right place, Jaleco could have created the cyberpunk equivalent of A Link to the Past. For whatever reasons they didn't, and so instead we're left with a fun, aesthetically pleasing but very slight game that contains just a glimmer of greatness, making it the poster boy for Jaleco as a whole. Sadly Operation Logic Bomb never received a sequel, although it does have two prequels - the Game Boy games Ikari no Yousai / Fortified Zone and Ikari no Yousai II. Maybe I'll give them a go and see if they fix any of the issues with OLB. If I reappear in a while clutching a frisbee and ranting about mechanical crabs, you'll know how it went.

3 comments:

  1. Saw some footage of this game, and I have to say, I'm somewhat impressed. It could have been better, but I really like the presentation on this game.

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  2. Every time I read one of these articles and you mention a recurring enemy theme, such as crabs, I get this overwhelming urge to study the history of their appearances throughout video games. So now, of course, I am grappling with the desire to write a short history of Crabs in video games. I wonder if I could get a publishing deal on that? Hmm.

    Also, I have no idea what you actually call a circular lock with handle, but dammit I can't get enough of them. Usually they have a green glowing control/power rod underneath them don't they?

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  3. In mech anime(or at least in Macross, where it's a fairly iconic detail), those crossbar circles would be vernier thrusters for orienting your robot in space.
    What they're doing on terrestrial robocrabs is anyone's guess.

    I suspect it's a case of borrowing a design element without any consideration for the original purpose of said element(which is HARDLY a Jaleco exclusive). That or the robots are held together with a handful of VERY LARGE flathead screws.

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