Around its initial release in the early '90s, Sega launched G-LOC: Air Battle in several different forms, including an arcade cabinet, a Mega Drive port, and eventually crash-landing it on the portable Game Gear console. The series has been mostly absent since then, finally popping back up on the 3DS’s Virtual Console service. Some elements were altered and some were lost in the process of scaling it down from the arcade original to this Game Gear port, but G-LOC has somehow managed to fly another day.
The entirety of gameplay is from a first-person perspective with you sitting in the cockpit of a fighter plane. According to the game’s manual, your not-so-apparent goal is to take out the Future World Army, represented here as jets, tanks and warships. The loose plot is completely absent in-game, however, so everything really just comes down to shooting everything else on screen before they shoot you.
This is a difficult game, but not in the fun, enticing way that makes you wan to keep playing. Rather than providing a reasonable challenge with steadily increasing difficulty, G-LOC’s difficulty instead comes from gameplay and graphics that have not aged gracefully. Your mission is always clear — destroy 10 fighters, destroy 15 warships — but completing that objective becomes a chore once you realize that there's no real way of predicting where an enemy might pop up or whether or not your line of fire will make contact. All of your enemies, be they plane or ship, look like grey masses of pixels that increase in size as they creep over the horizon line towards you. The environments are also quite unattractive, repeating the same exact mountainous and flat patters but with color pallet swaps to represent water and land. The truth is that most missions feel like you’re just flying in a straight line, shooting wildly, hoping to hit a target. Missions feel this way because that’s exactly what you’re doing.
There are nine missions, the first eight of which can be played in any order and the final becoming available when the rest are complete. As you complete missions, you will be awarded a certain amount of points that can be spent at the supply hangar on ship repairs and upgrades. Effectively managing your points is a necessity, as choosing between refueling your plane and picking up more missiles could mean the difference between a successful and a failed mission. However, the supply hangar is only available after a mission has been completed; this is a frustrating mechanic that makes planning ahead for your next mission imperative.
Beyond the nine missions, there is a multiplayer mode that allows you and a friend to engage in a dogfight against one another. Multiplayer is limited to local only, though, and it requires both players to own a copy of the game, as it does not support download play.
Just as the graphics haven't lasted the test of time, the soundtrack leaves much to be desired as well. The 8-bit tracks sound tinny and grating, compelling a quick flick of the 3DS's volume to the "mute" position. While the music is sure to get stuck in your head, you’ll be begging for a way to get it back out.
Your jet controls are simple, work well, and are probably the most functional aspect of this game. Replacing the arcade cabinet joystick, your craft can be maneuvered using either the 3DS’s D-Pad or Circle Pad, and your weapons are attributed to the A and B buttons. Though the controls may be primarily mapped for D-Pad use based on the Game Gear’s inputs, using the Circle Pad feels natural, matching the turns and dips of your jet with ease. This is all well and good, but when unbroken controls – especially when they’re improved on by modern hardware rather than that which the game was originally intended for – are the most enticing aspect of a game, it becomes obvious that this one isn’t up to snuff.
G-LOC: Air Battle is an unattractive and unfortunate port of a now-classic arcade gem. While the Mega Drive version did well to bring the experience to home consoles, this Game Gear iteration is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at porting it even further. It’s very possible that this may have been an impressive portable experience in the early '90s, but it hasn't aged gracefully, and it's definitely time to leave this one grounded.