Clash Force is an 8-bit run-and-gun game that is inspired by Saturday morning cartoons of the ‘80s. Originally released in 2012 for iOS, Clash Force made its way to Xbox, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch in July of 2020. In it, the Clash Force is tasked with stopping Crackman – not kidding, that’s his actual name – and his evil army.
It’s a straightforward game, the levels are linear with no secret or hidden areas like the video games of old, and there are three difficulties: Normal, Hard, and Expert. Each level starts with three lives, unless playing on Expert, in which case after two hits it’s back to the beginning. And players will have the choice to play Voom, Scorpio, or Echid through the four different game areas. But the only reason to pick one over the other is appearance – they all play the same.
This game was designed to be reminiscent of the NES classics of old, which means as a ‘90s baby I am slightly outside of its target audience. Occasionally I would visit my friend’s house and we would play on his SNES, so my closest frame of reference is Contra, which Clash Force does a pretty good job of replicating. However, one of the limitations of Clash Force initially releasing on iOS is that the directional shooting controls that you would expect to find in this kind of game were unable to be replicated.
But beyond that, the jumping and weapon systems nail the feel of NES games. Power-ups come in the form of small boxes with a design on them that indicates what weapon they are. Among them are flamethrowers and laser guns that pack a much stronger punch compared to the starter gun, but take any damage and the gun is lost. There is a shield power-up that will protect against one hit, and extra lives can be picked up throughout the levels, but they are few and far between so relying on them isn’t a recipe for success.
This game sticks to the classic forest, desert, and underground areas, and the big finale is in Crackman’s Flying Fortress. At the end of each stage is a “Bonus Level”, which is a single room that gives an opportunity to get any one of the weapons in the game or a shield. It’s a nice little reward for surviving, but the only way to revisit them is by completing another stage.
Each area ends with a boss fight, and something that is interesting about those is the inclusion of a percentage health bar. Most games in this style typically rely solely on visual cues to represent the boss’s health so it was odd to see a health bar in a game that otherwise remains pretty faithful to the genre. There are four bosses in the game and none of them are overly challenging, especially once their attack patterns are identified. It was even possible for me to complete one of the fights by standing in a spot where I couldn’t be hit. Boss attack patterns do change as they lose health, but some of them can be defeated so quickly it’s hard to notice the differences.
The levels themselves fit into the mold of what would be expected of this kind of game, and as a result nothing really sticks out. That’s not to say there’s much wrong with the different stages. They all work well and run smoothly; the only real exception is the Missile Level in Crackman’s Fortress. In it, the player character is riding on missiles that are moving to the right, while the background scrolls to the left, all while a constant barrage of projectiles and enemies fly across the screen. The result is a ton of sensory overload that makes it hard to play and enjoy at the same time.
When all is said and done, Clash Force is nothing special. It doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from other platformers in the genre and it can be beaten rather quickly – it took me around an hour to get through it on Normal. There was a missed opportunity when each of the characters didn’t have unique weapon or move sets, as they are simply different sprites for the character to look at. It does provide an easy 1000 Gamerscore which is always something I am a fan of, but there isn’t much satisfaction in beating it beyond that.
The base game isn’t much of a challenge and it’s very easy to just slow down and methodically work through the levels, and after playing through the game once there just isn’t enough of a reason to replay it. The only differences would be enemy placement and the overall difficulty, which again can be mitigated by a slow and methodical approach. But that wouldn’t be much fun either.
For the sake of fairness, I am not the target audience for this game. People who want to experience the nostalgia of games and cartoons from the ‘80s will most likely enjoy Clash Force on Xbox One, and for the price point, there isn’t much harm in trying it out yourself. Again, it doesn’t really do anything wrong, it just doesn’t do much right either.