Nightmarish side-scrolling action game in the Terminator universe.
The Terminator on Sega's Game Gear is among the first Terminator games to be released on a video game console, let alone a hand-held one. The story of the game is based on the Terminator movie released in 1984 and you play as the protagonist Kyle Reese.
The game looks like a usual 2D side-scrolling action game with some platforming elements thrown into it, and that's basically what it is too. The game does allow you to explore levels in multiple layers with ladders and pits - pretty standard stuff. However, this game does have some quirks of its own, and all of it is strongly repelling.
There are five rather short levels to play through and the story will take you to both the darkest future of mankind and the busy streets of Los Angeles. You will be fighting against superior Terminator machines, flying assault vehicles and punks of the streets.
When the game begins your only weapon are your fragmentation grenades. You can find and pick up an assault rifle, but doing so makes you lose your grenades – you can only carry one weapon at a time. On the levels that take place in present time you're using a shotgun but it acts like the assault rifle, so there are basically only two different weapons in this game. The grenades must be used to blow up walls, and the assault rifle is very effective when it comes to taking down enemies.
Between levels there are some brief story screens now and then to let you in on the details on what's going on in the game – apparently the game makes more sense if you have seen the movie, so it does stay somewhat true to the original story.
The game is never clear about where you are supposed to go though, and there's even an occasion in which you must backtrack to a previously explored area without getting any clue to do so. At all times there are endless enemies coming at you – and basically all of them have guns. It's impossible to react to every bullet shot at you in time, so naturally your health will wear down in no time at all. When you clear a stage your health is fully replenished, but that is also the only occasion in which you can gain new health.
Your health status is shown in percentages on the top of the screen. Kyle Reese can take about twenty bullets before he dies. In this game however touching an enemy is far deadlier than being shot at, and there are numerous things that will kill you outright.
The biggest problem is that you are only given one single life to beat the whole game - and that is nothing but outrageous because of the difficulty of the game. Replaying the game from the very beginning every time you die is, needless to say, hideous. The only way to beat this game is to know every pixel of it by heart and on top of that having the luckiest day of your life.
The controls feel stale. Kyle Reese is obviously slow to react, and jumping is pretty awkward too. You can't control yourself while you are in the air, but jumping precision is required in the later levels. The enemies are aiming to "get stuck" inside you, and this is especially notable when you're jumping down from a higher platform to a lower one. Since you can only fire straight ahead there is no way to kill the enemies that are below you and they're following your every move, only to "get stuck" inside you when you jump down. This will drain your health very rapidly and your attacks can't reach enemies that are standing too close! This, of course means that nine times out of ten you'll die in a situation like this.
The fragmentation grenades can be used to kill enemies but it's close to impossible to do so without getting hit by enemy fire because you can't throw grenades quick enough to cover both the front and the back. What's more, if you're standing and throwing grenades there is a chance that the arc in which the grenade travels will miss your intended target. To make things even worse; if you crouch while throwing your character automatically stands up between each thrown grenade making you an easy target for enemies. You'll also see that some enemies crouch while shooting and those shots will hit you regardless – the stiff controls won't let you jump in time to react to this.
The graphics are, at least, good for a Game Gear game. The animations are relatively smooth, and the game has an appropriate color scheme. The levels are designed to have many dead ends, but at least you can always tell what the levels depict. The Game Gear works hard to keep the frame rate steady and does a great job at it. There are occasions when you can see your score and health indicators flickering because of the hardware failing to render the many sprites on screen fast enough, but that's only a minor issue.
The story scenes between levels are typically stills from the movie accompanied with text dialog, which is suitable to both the story and the game.
The theme song in The Terminator is a Game Gear-sound rendition of the iconic theme song from the movie. The game has some original music to it as well – some of it is hectic and dark, some of it sounds jumbled and generally it's not any good at all.
The game does have sound effects for explosions and gunfire, but generally the background music is what fills the air.
The Terminator on Game Gear is a terrible game. It's excruciatingly hard and punishing to the extent that any sane person would put it down after only a few attempts. Even though the graphics are nice and clean for the most part, the player experience is very poor as the game has many crude bugs. It's painfully obvious that the only reason why you're only given one single life to beat the game is to make it seem bigger than it is. Sending the player back to zero each time she dies in a game like this is stupid and a waste of everyone's time. If you had a few lives you could probably beat the game in a matter of minutes once you learn what you're supposed to do.