Daily Classic: Elevator Action II, An Arcade Oddity Too Beautiful for This Miserable World

What if they held a sequel and no one came?

Article by Jeremy Parish, .

I first discovered Taito's Elevator Action II in about 2002, a good eight years after its debut. By that point, it was a bizarre curiosity: An old-school 2D platform shooting game in an era where arcades had become spaces for congregations of teens to try and out-dance one another.

But I suspect Elevator Action II would have felt an oddity even in its own time. Even Taito's decision to resurrect the Elevator Action brand after more than a decade of silence alone made this one odd; what prompted them to look back in the archives and say, "Ah, yes, here's a minor hit from the early '80s. Let's totally bring this back as a more contemporary game." It wasn't quite as out of place as Strider 2, but it was close. The scrolling action format that Elevator Action II adopted had already become a vanishing breed in the arcades by 1994; before too long, it would be moribund on consoles as well.

Crush the old order... and create a new society! [Image source]

Change was afoot for video games in the mid-'90s, and Elevator Action II felt in many ways like the last dinosaur grazing blithely before the meteor impact: A lonely holdout from the '80s. Besides bearing the name of a game that had last been relevant circa 1983, it played more or less like Namco's Rolling Thunder, itself a game from 1985. Despite a few high-profile successes such as Contra and Strider, the 2D platformer had never really found much traction in arcades. So why on earth did Taito adopt that format for its Elevator Action revival?

Honestly, we'll probably never know. Maybe it's OK, though; as it turns out, Elevator Action II may have been dated, but it was a lot of fun. I suspect the fact that it didn't have a lot of contemporaries had a liberating effect, of sorts. There was no leader to follow, no keeping up with the latest trends. Taito was well outside the bounds of the mainstream, and they kind of went hog-wild with the game.

First things first, though; Elevator Action II didn't feature nearly the same emphasis on vertical movement as its predecessor. Make no mistake, it included plenty of elevators and escalators, but they didn't dominate the design of every level. Some stages, most notably the running battle through the airport, featured a much more horizontal design than one might expect from a game that supposedly centered around riding boxes up and down. On the other hand, when levels did factor in elevators, they totally went for it, presenting players with cascades of elevators cars almost mazelike in their byzantine (and not at all architecturally sound) arrangements.

Oh, so that's what first class seating in the upper deck looks like. I'd always wondered.

The original Elevator Action had a fairly simplistic premise: Players controlled a secret agent descending a tall skyscraper, riding elevators downward and grabbing secret documents from specially marked doors along the way. The sequel retained the essence – you couldn't complete a stage without visiting all the red doors – but amped up the intensity. Up to two people could play cooperatively, taking further cues from Rolling Thunder to duck into rooms along the way either for shelter or to acquire ammunition or health pickups. And of course there were plenty of curiously responsive elevators along the way, quick to respond to upward and downward movements.

In a lot of ways, Elevator Action II was an early example of cover-based shooting. You really needed to make use of the movement of elevators and the protective shelter of doors to evade enemy fire. Speaking of fire, that was another way in which the game felt curiously ahead of its time; each of the three selectable characters (a feature carried over from the ambitious Game Boy adaptation of the original Elevator Action) commanded use of a limited-use special weapon that could practically fill the screen with explosions and flames. Enemies caught in these blasts would catch fire themselves, thrashing briefly before expiring messily (a fact that came in handy during certain enemy waves in which, for example, a steady stream of jetpack troopers would zoom in to attack; lay down a constant field of firebombs and they'd die in droves the instant they landed). It was just cartoonish enough not to seem gruesome; far more unsettling these days is the fact that Elevator Action II let you kill enemy dobermans — something modern games are far too squeamish to allow.

Sometimes you just gotta set some dudes on fire in order to save the world. They're like eggs for your omelette.

Like the best arcade games, Elevator Action II paired its overall brevity (you can reach the end in 30 minutes, easily) with constant changes and surprises. Sure, maybe it never quite reached the level of Strider. On the other hand, how many other games saw you reach the top of a high-rise building only to have the villain blow the roof and mock you from a helicopter? Admittedly, the set pieces didn't always work; the final stage saw players racing against a ridiculously short deadline to stop the launch of a nuclear missile with no chance for a do-over. Blow it, and that was it; your entire play session had been for naught.

Perhaps Elevator Action II was a game out of time. But it was well-made, if conceptually somewhat baffling, and like so many projects clearly borne of misguided enthusiasm it managed to be a lot of fun. Brief, energetic, and even better with a friend, Elevator Action II never would have happened in a saner world. So thank goodness for the mad reality we live in.

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Comments 13

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  • Avatar for cscaskie #1 cscaskie 4 years ago
    I've never played this, but I have very fond memories of the original Elevator action. I'll have to check it out.

    Strider has been a topic of discussion alot around here, especially in its arcade incarnations. I pretty much consider you to be the authority on it Jeremy - so I was curious about your feelings on Cannon Dancer/Osman.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #2 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    I first played this on the Sega Saturn a couple of years ago and like Valis III, I thought it was usual how much detail they had put into the character animation - but in a good way; you can see the bullet casing fall and bounce to the ground after firing your gun.

    ...Either way, I always secretly thought that the cast from Elevator Action II had died on their last mission and were later rebuilt to become the Cyborg Ninjas in Ninja Warriors for SNES.

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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #3 kidgorilla 4 years ago
    @cscaskie I think Osman is really good. It has a few more attack features than Strider, and it looks beautiful. The problem is you basically have to emulate it. I've never seen one in the wild
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #4 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I really liked the original Elevator Action, it being one of the few arcade games that I had somewhat consistent access to. When I discovered there was a sequel, I definitely had to try it out. Thank goodness for the Saturn port. The game is really, really fun stuff, and I love the sprite work. Plus it plays very, very smooth.

    As regarding Osman, it's pretty slick as well. I remember my primary roadblock being the last stage, though. Dying at the wrong time brings serious repercussions there, as you lose all your powerups, and despite having infinite continues, taking down a sub-boss without the benefit of said powerups makes things really, really, REALLY tough.

    I still need to give Moon Diver a shot.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #5 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @cscaskie I've deliberately brought things around to Strider a lot to tie in with the new game over the past week or so; I always feel like discussion of game history is more meaningful if it's anchored in the current day. I doubt I'll be mentioning Strider too often after this, honestly. As for Osman, I mentioned elsewhere that I don't really do a lot in the way of emulation so I've never actually played it, as much as I'd like to. I keep hoping that someday I'll stumble across one of those Starcade cabinets in Tokyo that has the game loaded on it, though the heartbreaking loss of Shibuya Kaikan makes that much less likely.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #6 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    I forget whether I first discovered this through Hardcore Gaming 101 or by emulation on my own, but I was surprised how crazy this game gets. I think it's available on one of the Taito collections that came out on the PS2 era if anyone want to try it.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #7 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    @DiscordInc Yeah, it's available on Taito Legends 2 for Windows, Xbox and PS2.

    Elevator Action 2 was the sole reason why I bought the collection. It's just such a neat game released during an odd time.
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  • Avatar for Natabuu #8 Natabuu 4 years ago
    I first discovered this game on one of the four discs of the Taito Memories series on PS2. It was the Japanese version of the Taito Legends line.
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  • Avatar for ArugulaZ #9 ArugulaZ 4 years ago
    in the Saturn version of Elevator Action, a catchy, laid-back techno piece with lots of samples from the original game. Oh, the things you'll discover when you pop PSone and Saturn games into a computer!

    I actually played EAR with the writer of this piece in a Lansing arcade, back when those existed. What was a game that obscure doing in an arcade at the turn of the century? No clue, but we sure weren't complaining. And yes, it's damn near impossible to get the good ending. I've heard that it's a random occurance even if you're good enough to beat the clock. (We weren't.)
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  • Avatar for Pacario #10 Pacario 4 years ago
    "...the 2D platformer had never really found much traction in arcades."

    This is only partly true; indeed, some of my favorite arcade games are platformers. Pac-Land, Ghosts 'N Goblins, Bubble Bobble, Snow Bros., and Blue's Journey...*sigh*, them's were the days.
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  • Avatar for soupbones #11 soupbones 4 years ago
    Great article - but FYI: This page is displaying Strider's bio information, instead of EA2s (under the first pic).

    Recently purchased a JP Saturn and this game after playing the PCB at my brother's house. Amazing game.
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  • Avatar for abuele #12 abuele 4 years ago
    Great article, you never stop learning something new each day.

    I played this game in the arcades, but I always thought that maybe TAITO delayed it, in the way some movies are delayed, in a way where it was completed, stored for a couple of years and then launch as a new game, which in a sense it is a new game, but surely outdated by its contemporaries, which was the case for it.
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  • Avatar for aaronmarksavadge57 #13 aaronmarksavadge57 3 years ago
    I always felt like Rolling Thunder was Namco looking at Elevator Action and saying "we could make a pretty slick action game out of this." Elevator Action Returns brings it full circle by taking Rolling Thunder's improvements, implementing more action platforming and cover shooting.

    The result was a great game. The Rolling Thunder series had just seen its final installment a year earlier and this really carried on its spirit.
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