This Day in Video Game History: 1991 | SEGA Genesis gains ground
A solid home conversion of a cult arcade classic arrives.
On January 2, 1991, SEGA published the Mega Drive conversion of its arcade shooter (well, sort of a shooter), Gain Ground. The U.S. version followed a day later.
The Mega Drive and Genesis didn't exactly lack for shooting games, but Gain Ground was a bit different. As explained in a SEGA arcade history episode from a few months back in which we sang praises to the game but forgot to actually mention it by title, Gain Ground bears only a superficial similarity to the likes of, say, Ikari Warriors. Sure, you control everything from a top-down perspective, and you have to defeat waves of enemies with a tiny little person… but beyond those connections, Gain Ground quickly morphs into its own thing.
In a lot of ways, it plays like a strategy game of sorts. It takes its most substantial cues from Kouji Sumi's misunderstood PC game Bokosuka Wars, whose life outside of Japan has largely consisted of kids playing the Famicom ROM, completely failing to understand the point, and writing it off as trash. (Spoiler, it's actually not.) The two games have a lot in common: You control a small squad of warriors in a real-time setting, acquiring new members for your team by acquitting yourself in battle. In Gain Ground, this acquittal takes the form of guiding a new combatant through a stage packed with hazards and foes.
Each stage of Gain Ground consists of a single screen in which you need to lead your army to the exit one at a time. Each team member you can recruit possesses their own distinct attributes, stats rendered in a real-time context: Some move more quickly than others, while others command raw firepower. Certain characters wield complex and intricate weapons that require careful practice to master. The challenge of Gain Ground is that it's quite unforgiving, and your "practice" for each character consists of learning their abilities on the fly in a live battle arena.
Don't take my word for it, though. Let Kim fill you in:
Honestly, between its slow pace and nuanced play, Gain Ground doesn't really seem an ideal arcade experience. The Genesis conversion offers a far more leisurely playing format… though it suffers somewhat from the need to change over from the arcade's vertical monitor to a horizontal TV-friendly style. The arcade conversion has not, to my knowledge, been republished on a home console (though the Switch's convenient vertical axis rotation sure would be a great place for it to show up —hint hint, SEGA). This Genesis version, on the other hand, showed up on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, and Xbox 360 in SEGA Genesis Collection and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. (You can buy SEGA Genesis Collection on PlayStation Network; the PSP port doesn't officially run on Vita, but you can load it onto the system by transferring it from PS3 to Vita.) It's also on Wii Virtual Console, if you hurry. Or you could just save yourself a lot of hassle and grab it on Steam via SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics. In any case… please play it. Not only is it incredibly unique even to this day, it's also quite good.