Growl (1990) by Taito
System:Arcade (and Taito Legends 2)
Game Type: Beat-em-up
Players: 1-4

Review by PrimeOp

There's a reason why Taito has a reputation of being one of the biggest arcade powerhouses since they blessed us with Space Invaders. Okay, there's a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that they never got complacent with one genre. Instead of the usual city streets, ninja compounds or trap-filled castles, they looked to the Indiana Jones series and 'Bring 'em Back Alive/Panama Jack feel for inspiration. The theme works, but with a few missteps in the game play.

A criminal organization that had been illegally poaching animals faced opposition from a group of rangers. Gen, Jack, Khan and Burn get a call that the poachers were at it again when their station (and fully stocked bar) gets fire-bombed with them in. Needless to say, it's on like an MF as all four rangers commence to putting foot to criminal butt wherever they find it. The controls are basic with just one attack button, one punch button and a spin attack activated by pressing both buttons at once. Fun occurs when an enemy is dazed because you can kneel down and bash them some more, slam them back and forth like Bam-Bam Rubble or just stop them until their party's over. This game sports a nice arsenal that includes the usual knives, grenades, pistols and swords, but allows you the uncommon pleasure of using a machine gun that your opponents can't. For extra herbs and spices, you can also nab a rocket launcher and blast the poachers to chunky bits. Most of the game has the typical BEU walking field with one stage happening atop a train and another that looks like a lost level from Taito's Rastan (complete with annoying bats that knock you into lava).
Wait until a crowd or boss pops up before using the reddish-brown exploding barrels. Remember to get out of the way quick before you get caught in the blast.
You'll need to use every advantage that you have, because there are times that the enemies roll out by the dozen. Seriously. This game must've seen some record for the sheer amount of beat-em-up cannon fodder in a 2-D arcade game. The swarms include thugs that look a bit like the 'Two Wild and Crazy Guys' from 1970's SNL episodes, robed refugees from Raiders of the Lost Ark, grenade-tossing women, and heavyset bruisers who are classy enough to wear a fez. Unlike most beat-em-ups, Growl's storyline ties into the game play. You'll occasionally interrupt poachers who are trying to abduct animals. After you and your enemies trade some bizarre banter, you'll have a chance to free your jungle pals. The fun part is that saving them allows causes them to come back later to lend a paw, claw, beak or enormous elephant foot to the cause. I think this was before Capcom's Cadillacs and Dinosaurs game, so this was a nice surprise at the time. For some reason, it's just fun to see large hoardes of enemies try to overwhelm you only to be mauled by a lion or trampled by tiger cubs. It's the simple pleasures in life, you know.
Free the noble animals of the jungle from irritating and overdressed poachers who torture the poor creatures with weird, existential questions
Sadly, a few gameplay problems hold this game back. Dropped weapons disappear so quickly that you may as well forget about them once they're dropped in a thick fight. The worst is that there are thick invisible borders on both sides of the screen which can box you in when enemies swarm you because they can walk through these barriers. If a weapon is knocked out of your hands on the border's edge, you can't get it back. On the other hand, there are other nice little touches. For one, you can rifle-bash close-range enemeis and objects instead of wasting ammo. Explosive barrels can be safely thrown or hit by another weapon from long distance. Plus, it's just kinda fun. There's a weird charm to this game that lets you pit a Harrison Ford-like hero against a guy that fights like the Ultimate Warrior but dresses a bit like Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th part 2. As crazy as that sounds, it's tame compared to the last boss who must be one of the most WTF bosses in BEU history. Taito was close on this one, but I have to give it a lower critical score for the technical issues that harm the gameplay.
So you looked at the above screenshot and expected some joke with Afred Hitchcock, Tippy Hedren or bird poop to be down here. A few more cultured heads out there were looking for a Koko B. Ware reference. Well, I've got nothin'. Just be sure to stay alert while on this train.

It's not one of the greatest beat-em-ups ever, but it still has a nice fun factor. Long ago, it only got a Genesis/Mega Drive port which you can still find in better used game stores. Recently, the arcade version (with less gore) made it into all versions (PS2, X-Box and PC) of the Taito Legends vol.2 compilation. It's just a fun beat-em-up to play with friends, even those who aren't really good at video games. That overall 6 score is more like a 6.5 and would've been a 7 if not for the invisible borders. Gameplay 7
Graphics 6
Sound 7
Control 6
Overall 6

Growl, Runark and all related characters © Taito

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