After nearly a three-year wait, and following on the success of Grandia, GameArts returns with Gungriffon II, the sequel to its acclaimed mech simulator Gungriffon. As a member of the 501st HIGH-MACS Squadron, you'll find yourself caught in a struggle between four warring superpowers. Your success will determine the difference between the conqueror and the conquered.
So, what has changed in the three years since the first Gungriffon made its mark in the fledgling Saturn lineup? Not much. Graphically, you'd be hard-pressed to notice any distinct improvements between the original and its sequel. Which is a big disappointment, considering that Grandia ran on a modified Gungriffon engine. You'd think for a third- or fourth-generation Saturn game it would have looked better, but it doesn't. The frame rate is OK, but suffers from occasional slowdown when things get hectic. The color scheme, which was bound to be drab, given the camouflaged nature of the game, still offers limited improvement in palette. Explosions and smoke effects are grainy and pixelated, and there are no transparencies found in the game. On the plus side, vehicles and mech designs appear more solid, with improved textures, and there's even a limited amount of light sourcing.
Gungriffon II's basic layout and interface also remain unchanged. The game is broken down into missions, and at the start of each sortie, a data screen appears, detailing your objectives. Mission objectives can range from basic search-and-destroy patterns to guarding a cargo plane while it takes off. At the end of every mission you're given a score based on your performance. Fans of the first game will be pleased to hear that control is exactly the same as the first, with one minor change. Previously, the Y button had been used for night vision, but this has been replaced as an air-strike command. Otherwise it's business as usual: right shoulder button for fire, left shoulder for turret, X for forward, A for reverse, Z for jump, B for strafing, and C for weapon toggle. Gungriffon II is also compatible with Sega's little-known TwinStick (originally designed for use with Virtual-On).
Gungriffon II's sound is well done. The soundtrack is suitably epic for a war-themed game, although it does little else to impress. Sound effects are well represented: Machine guns sound like machine guns, rocket pods sound like, er, rocket pods, etc. The clank and thud of a HIGH-MAC's feet as it gives chase is appropriately heavy sounding, and tanks make tank-ish noises as they attempt to get out of your way. However, the twist in Gungriffon II that will draw most of the attention is its multiplayer features. In a surprise move, GameArts has included the option of using the Saturn's practically unheard-of link cable for use in vs. mode, eliminating the need for split-screen display. Another option for the majority of players without a link cable is the double-seater option. Whereas the single-seater mode was simply a one-player game, double-seater lets two gamers command a single mech: One player does the driving while another controls the cannons. It's a fantastic idea that makes you wonder why nobody had done it before. Additional playing options round out the package, featuring exercise (training) mode, survival mode, and live mode (which lets you save and replay your best matches).
The one detail that is sorely missing is the lack of a CG intro. While this may be irrelevant to some, the original Gungriffon had one of the best openings in recent video game history. As a showpiece it set the tone for the game and helped establish a perspective for the gamer that other intros never come close to achieving. In lieu of this, Gungriffon II offers an introductory sequence using the game's graphics engine, which, by comparison, doesn't stack up.
In the end, if you have the first, it would be hard to recommend Gungriffon II as an import purchase. It's a solid enough game, in my opinion better than Armored Core or Mechwarrior, but it does little to distance itself from its older brother. In opting for refinement as opposed to reinvention, GameArts has also limited the potential for innovation and has delivered, practically, the same game. The only major selling point would be the double-seater option, and you'd be hard-pressed to justify buying the game just for that. Still, if you never picked up the first title and are looking for a well-done mech simulator, Gungriffon II may fit that bill nicely.