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Best Games - Elevator Action Returns

Elevator Action is a classic arcade game from 1983, where you play as a spy infiltrating an office tower. Your mission involves ascending that tower to search for secret documents, and that will require the use of a lot of elevators. All the while, patrolling enemies will attempt to thwart your efforts. You have a few ways to fight them, but using the elevators against them is probably the most fun. It’s a great game.
That’s not the game I’m writing about here.
In 1994, Taito released the sequel, Elevator Action Returns.
Eleven years and many generations of computer technology later, Elevator Action Returns is as much a leap ahead as it is a throwback. It looks every bit a 1994 arcade game. Great character art, fantastic animation, gameplay action spread over beautiful levels that change dynamically. It looks that way, but it plays very much like a tuned up version of the original. Don’t get me wrong, it plays great, but so did the original.
Had this sequel been made any sooner, it just wouldn’t have been the same. This is a dream remake of a game.
When you play Elevator Action Returns, you can kind of imagine what was going on in the developer’s heads. It’s like they wanted to make the version of the game they remembered. The game they imagined in their childhood reveries. In place of the tiny, blocky spy character from Elevator Action, they imagined a trio of anime inspired action heroes. In place of the building, a set of sprawling levels in a continuous campaign. In place of the replicated, fedora wearing enemies from the original, they created a whole army of enemies with different looks, behaviours, and attacks.
Older video games didn’t look very good. We can just accept that as fact. The resolution and color palettes of most games left a lot to the player’s imaginations. Characters and locations were representational glyphs, at best. When you play them, your brain sort of fills in the blanks. Making a sequel to a beloved game over a decade later, some things can remain the same, but others will require some translation. Elevator Action Returns is like the real working model based off the Elevator Action sketch. Similar, but fully realized.
The elevators are still elevators. They go up and down, but that’s not all that they are for. It’s not long before you are using them not just to travel the various buildings, but as strategic weapons against an array of terrorist baddies.
You probably won’t even play a full level before you are waiting for just the right moment to roll a barrel down on top of a group of enemies, lighting them all on fire, or tossing a grenade into an empty shaft to light a completely different group of enemies on fire. In no time, the motion of the elevators becomes your plaything.
Some reviews at the time of Elevator Action Returns release weren’t particularly kind. There were some sentiments that the game was too simple, or not up to the level of its contemporaries. By 1994, the trend toward 3D was in full swing, and punched up versions of older game mechanics were very much not in fashion. Oddly enough, had the sequel been made even later, the reception for it may have been warmer.
Now, Elevator Action Returns is pretty universally recognized as a lost gem. A game that did what it was intending to do so well that some many people missed out on it at the time. The only problem is, most people never really got around to playing it. 
It’s a sequel. It’s a remake. It’s a reimagining of what might have been, had the technology been available eleven years earlier.
Elevator Action Returns is one of the Best Games.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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