The Fair Shake

Action Fighter: SMS

Greetings Readers! Carl beckons you to the sidecar of his bike. Want to ride? This week we’ll be taking secret missions and exploring that game where you play a spy in control of a car with some cool weapons. No, not Spy Hunter.. the other one. Ever heard of “Action Fighter”?

No Hunting of Spies today.

The name is admittedly lame. It conjures up an image of a generic crime fighting superhero fighting generic crime, in Genericville, USA. It should, however, cause you to think of an amazing action/driving game. Action fighter was initially released as an arcade game in 1986. It could be considered Sega’s ‘answer’ to Spy Hunter. Ported to several home computer systems in both the US and the UK, it was also released for the Sega Master System. This is the version we will be discussing today.


Sink the Kazoos!

Action Fighter takes an interesting premise, as described in the instruction manual for the game: ‘Take the motorcycle from “Hang On,” equip it with hi-tech weaponry and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car — and you’ve got ACTION FIGHTER!’ This is the game in a nutshell. As the “Action Fighter”, you’ll control this motorcycle, which can also transform into a car and some sort of flying jet by way driving over large Scrabble letters… errr, ‘car parts’. A through D will transform the bike into a car, while the additional letters E and F will cause two engines to attach to the car and take flight. You are given the ability to go back and forth from car to bike during ground levels by pressing buttons 1 and 2, while air levels are played in the air completely. You’ll be given five separate missions to complete, from destroying attack submarines in the water, to blowing up anti-aircraft tanks. Besides the various targets, there are many enemies trying to stop you, on the ground, in the sea and in the air, ranging from ambulances and cars all the way to missile equipped hang gliders… read that last one again.. Yes, missile equipped.. hang gliders.


Hey it IS the bike from Hang-On!

To aid you in your missions, there is a timer, similar to that other game, that counts down from 999. You may die as many times as you wish (or not) during this countdown, however when it stops, you are limited to two lives. Various power ups also grace the skies, in the form of colored “P”s, causing you to get stronger missiles, an extra life, temporary invisibility and so on. Did I mention you can shoot? Bullets are your means of attack on the ground, while in the air you have both air to air, and air to ground missiles (think Xevious).

Letter E, Chuck.

Game control in Action fighter is great. If you have a big thumb, the biggest issue will the the square game pad controller for the Master System. (An alternative is to use the Control Stick). The car can be a bit clumsy to drive in narrow spaces and gets squirrely when bouncing off another car. Control really shines in the air sequences, provided you picked up the ‘speed power up. If anything, the jet moves too quickly, usually causing you to crash head on into an enemy or a bullet.

One highlight of this game for me is the visual and audio qualities. Graphically, the game is quite bright and colorful, almost cartoon like in definition. This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. Musically, the game does indeed have a song! While not quite Peter Gunn, but the music from the game will stick in your head for some time. The bike and car have in my opinion some of the most fun, if not quite realistic sounds. Is this an electric bike or something? No matter. Death sounds like broken glass, while the missiles launched sound like an elderly man clearing his throat. Hear for yourself above.

You’re motoring. What’s your price for flight?

Everyone always goes on and on about Spy Hunter and how great a game it is. It is a great game. Iconic. There have been car commercials based on the game, in fact. Action Fighter proves, however, that there is more than one way to portray the genre. Sure, there is a ‘weapons truck’ , however Action Fighter brings more to the table by way of varying roads, backgrounds enemies, and bosses, along with a defined ending. Some levels are on the ground, while others are in the air. Did I mention, Scrabble letters? Can you complete all five missions? (I cannot). This is one of my favorite Master System games, and it always brings me back. Next time you want to shoot some stuff, I invite you to give Action Fighter, an under-appreciated game, living in the shadow of Spy Hunter,  The Fair Shake.