Dreamcast owners hungry for tank warfare need wait no more, Argonaut's Red Dog: Superior Firepower is here, courtesy of the fine folks at Crave. Best known as the people behind Nintendo's consummate SNES shooter Star Fox, Argonaut has fashioned a similar game of sorts in Red Dog. The invasion of Earth by an alien race is thwarted when human business leaders devise a clever business deal. Seven years later, though, the deal goes sour, and the Haak invaders begin cleansing Earth of human beings. Substitute in the Hakk for Andross' minions and swap out Corneria with Earth, and Red Dog's plot begins to sound quite familiar - it's Star Fox on Earth, only with a tank.
Unlike the more single-player-oriented Star Fox, Red Dog's feature list boasts a decent balance of solo and group gaming. There's the single-player mode, where you're called upon to complete ten levels worth of skirmish and escort missions. Along the way, you'll be graded on your performance, and completion of each mission unlocks a number of hidden secrets, such as challenge missions, multiplayer levels, and multiplayer weapons. On the multiplayer front, the game offers a plethora of deathmatch, tag, and team activities for between two and four players. To truly experience the joy of multiplayer battle, though, you'll need to unlock a few secrets, and to do that, you're going to need to climb into the Red Dog.
As far as actual combat goes, Red Dog plays as if it were a mix between a dune buggy racer and a standard first-person shooter. The analog triggers control acceleration, the buttons are for weapons usage, and the analog pad steers. In the beginning, the tank's bouncy control and jumpy aiming will take some getting used to, but acclimating yourself to them isn't horribly taxing. Each mission has an objective to complete, usually in the form of meeting a boss or escorting a piece of equipment - sometimes both. Standing in the way is a variety of Haak enemies - namely soldiers, spiders, tanks, fighters, and gun turrets. Although these enemies become stronger and more plentiful as the game progresses, the general makeup of each doesn't change. A gentle tap of the A button fires your lasers, which can vanquish weaker enemies, while mashing the A button launches a barrage of missiles for taking care of more robust foes. A word of warning for déjà vu sufferers, though: Despite the ability to fire stronger shots by holding a charge in the Red Dog's lasers, the resulting shots always look, sound, and behave exactly like those from Fox McCloud's ship in Star Fox 64. Should you require greater firepower, though, you can acquire a number of optional weapons, such as super bombs, lightning guns, and homing missiles, none of which seem to be taken from the aforementioned Nintendo space shooter. The multiplayer games follow the same basic premise, although the arenas are smaller, your opponents are human, and conservation of weapons is ill-advised.
The real issue with Red Dog lies not with its features or gameplay, but in their execution. Levels tend to be short and linear, with only the cadre of Haak enemies slowing the pace. A few levels contain alternate routes, but veering from the main path is basically an impossibility. To its credit, Argonaut populated the game's levels with plenty of enemies and buildings to destroy, but it also hampered things with an above-average difficulty level. The game's first level boasts medium difficulty, the second hard, the third brutal, and the rest an exponential increase in plasmatic death. If you can muddle through the difficulty and the doldrums, Red Dog does at least boast a rewarding storyline, amusing practice challenges, and creative boss creatures. Furthermore, the game's multiplayer experience is fun and exciting, perhaps even enough so that the chagrin found in the single-player mode is mitigated.
On the topic of graphics and sound, there is no such mixed experience - Red Dog is average all the way. The tank itself is colorful and lanky, resembling a cross between the SOPHIA in Sunsoft's Blaster Master and a dune buggy in Midway's 4 Wheel Thunder, but you'll never really get a chance to admire it. Thanks to the bouncy aiming, you'll spend the majority of your time in first-person view to improve your ability to lock on to enemies. The game's scenery is chock full of huge buildings, lava flows, ice rivers, and electrical ducts, all of which do a great job of conveying an alien base, but they too have a downside - a lack of polygons and blurry textures. The game's many enemies and boss characters exhibit similar problem. Quite literally, Red Dog looks like a beefed up Nintendo 64 title, replete with flat blurry surfaces, washed out colors, and a lack of minute texture detail. The frame rate is smooth at least. As for sound, each level has its own unique background music, but no single piece is particularly memorable. For the most part, Red Dog's best auditory effort comes from the game's many sound effects, an array of lasers and explosions sure to rock anyone's subwoofer.
As it stands, it may seem as if Red Dog isn't worth your gaming dollar. If you're only in it for the single-player experience, such a conclusion is certainly warranted. However, if you're the kind of person who loves challenging tank games or happens to have a few trigger-happy friends, the game takes on a life of its own. It's by no means a Quake III Arena, but fans of big explosions and warfare should be pleased. In many ways, the game is worth playing just for its mild, albeit constant, similarities to Star Fox.