Once upon a time, on-rails shooters ruled the arcades, and arguably no company did the genre better than Sega. Whether blasting criminals in Virtua Cop, gunning down zombies in House of the Dead or taking down dinosaurs, aliens or whatever else strays in front of your barrel, Sega brought a rich collection of shooters to arcade cabinets everywhere. Now the company's ported the chopper-tastic pair Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns Arcade Hits Pack to Wii at a budget price to try to convince you that the genre's not quite dead.
Gunblade NY is the older of the two titles and is showing its age these days, with chunky Model 2 graphics and some blocky textures. The gameplay fares better, putting you behind the mounted gun of a helicopter to blast anything in your path from assassins with jetpacks to giant walking robots. It's as simple as they come, requiring you point and shoot to blast your targets away and moving onto the next area when everything's destroyed. There are two campaigns, Easy and Hard, with the latter set in stages around Manhattan testing your reactions and trigger finger prowess, although the presence of infinite continues does hamper the game's challenge.
Far more detailed and varied is spiritual successor LA Machineguns, which confusingly isn't just set in Los Angeles, taking in areas including the Las Vegas strip on its whirlybird tour of destruction. Whilst utilising the same winning machinegun-on-a-helicopter formula, it features a combo scoring system that raises it above its predecessor. Every successful hit on a target fills a gauge around your reticule; the longer you keep this gauge filled, the higher your combo multiplier, but letting it empty will end your combo and finish your scoring potential. Although this sounds like an excuse to keep the trigger permanently squeezed, it does require some cerebral shooting in certain areas: when there are no enemies on screen you'll need sharp shooting to keep the combo going by firing at explosive barrels, crates, cars and anything else that stands in your way.
Setting high scores on either game moves you up through the police ranks, opening up new weapons as you proceed: heavy fire, wide-angle shots and rapid fire are all unlocked along the way, and switching between them is a simple matter of tapping the D-Pad. There isn't a huge amount of difference between each at first, but when the screen begins to fill with enemies you'll soon notice the change from rapid fire to heavy fire. Learning to switch appropriately becomes a useful skill, especially in LA Machineguns with its tight time limits.
Both games feature online leaderboards, allowing you to see how you stack up against the world's best quickly and easily. There's also an addictive score attack mode that sets you a tight time limit and challenges you to rack up as many points as possible, with your score dictating which stages you face and in which order, spicing things up a little more than the usual arcade mode.
Those Wii gamers who enjoyed Ghost Squad may be disappointed to learn this compilation doesn't match up in terms of extra content. Where Ghost Squad excelled in strange bonuses and a range of routes through the stages, Gunblade NY/LA Machineguns is a less varied experience, with no branching paths or water pistol modes to unlock. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the helicopter actually reveals itself as one of the game's bigger innovations, transporting players quickly from parks to bridges and freighters to skyscrapers, its hovering, swaying viewpoint still fresh after all these years.
One issue that affects both games will only bother those with widescreen TVs, but it's worth mentioning anyway. The original arcade games were played in 4:3 ratio, and that is available on the disc for the true "arcade perfect" feel. When choosing to play in 16:9, the game expands the viewing area of the screen but not the range of your reticule, meaning you can't shoot enemies at the screen's edges. The good news is that they can't hit you either, but they can still fire on you, and here's where things get problematic.
When tackling large groups of enemies and under fire from multiple targets, it's tough to keep track of which rockets come from which part of the screen. Those launched from the area your reticule can't reach will sail into the screen without harming you, but any fired within the original 4:3 ratio will blow up, causing damage. It's not a huge problem for most of the game, but in those tense shoot-outs with multiple enemies it can mean the difference between annihilating all opponents and losing a life through no clear fault of your own.
This problem becomes even more minor in multiplayer, particularly if both players use Zappers, as you'll likely be enjoying yourselves too much to care. When the screen gets filled with enemies, gunning them all down with a friend – or a Remote in each hand if you're that way inclined – is as exciting as it was all those years ago in the arcade.
At the asking price, Gunblade NY/LA Machineguns is a steal. While Gunblade is showing its age a little now, LA Machineguns is still an excellent shooter with an interesting combo system that should bring players back to hone their skills. The widescreen isn't perfect but the extra modes, online rankings and progression system certainly boost the package. It's as near as you'll get to replicating the arcade feeling without shelling out a few thousand notes.