Genre: Action Adventure
During its launch in the US, Sega’s new Dreamcast console released with 18 games in tow. While that’s not a paltry number for the time, there were only a handful of recognizable titles in the mix like Sonic Adventure and Mortal Kombat Gold. Titles like Soulcalibur and House of the Dead 2 weren’t exactly household titles yet but were familiar to the arcade going crowd. Then, there was a host of games to file under the “unknown” label; intellectual properties that were getting the chance to grow and become new franchises on a sparkly new system.
Blue Stinger is the system’s sole attempt at a straight-up action adventure game from their launch. With the newly formed Climax Graphics at the helm and heavyweight publisher Activision helping the game, it looked to be a formidable attempt at starting a new series in the vein of Dino Crisis and other success stories from the time. I still remember seeing a hefty amount of advertising pushing the game in magazines, and my best friend at the time had grabbed a copy almost immediately because it looked so good.
Unfortunately, I didn’t remember much about playing it aside from the opening scenes when I dove into it recently. As a huge fan of the Dreamcast and its unique library, Blue Stinger is a game I’ve been meaning to take a trip through given its strange existence in the gaming community today- plenty of folks seem not to remember the game exists and those who do have polarizing views on it.
Having dug my heels in to finish it recently, I have my own thoughts on it to share on both how it holds up and regarding its place in gaming at the time.Plot
Sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We’ve all read the stories about them and the fossils that were left behind after their extinction. Common knowledge on the subject is that a meteor crashed into the planet, wiping out the remaining dinosaurs through environmental means. Scientists and specialists of all kinds have studied as much as they can about them for years, honing in on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico as the crash site for the deadly space rock.
In the year 2000, an island was found in the area that the meteorite had landed in. Believed to be a product of the long-dormant landing space, scientists flocked to the area to set up a compound on which to study the island and the secrets that may be uncovered from beneath its shores. Why after all of these years did this landmass suddenly emerge? Was it a piece of the meteor or something else entirely? In their desire to claim the island as a place of study and research, scientists named this place “Dinosaur Island”.
Now, in the year 2018, Eliot G. Ballade, member of the Emergency Sea Evacuation Rescue (ESER) team for the island, is on vacation with his friend, spending time on the ocean on a boat, taking in the sun and looking forward to some time off- it’s Christmas Eve, after all. His vacation is cut short, however, when something falls from the sky into the middle of Dinosaur Island, sending shockwaves over the ocean and producing a strange force field around the island that essentially cuts his boat in half and leaves him to the mercy of the water. Upon waking up on the docks of the island, he finds himself face to face with a strange being wreathed in light that seems to have taken on the shape of a model his friend was building called “Nephilim”. While he can’t decide whether she’s benevolent or part of the strange incident, Eliot decides that Nephilim is the best chance he has of figuring out what happened and how he can survive Dinosaur Island.
Throughout the game, the player has control of two characters- Eliot Ballade and Dogs Bower, a ship captain who lives on Dinosaur Island. Each character controls in a similar fashion. Movement is governed by one of the analog sticks. By utilizing the A Button, the characters can perform a variety of actions like entering doors, picking up items, and climbing on to low ledges to reach points in the map. As the characters can’t jump, this is the only way to progress at times. The left shoulder trigger is used as an “examination” button, sending the camera into a first-person view so that the player can take a closer look at their surroundings. The right trigger serves as one of two combat methods by pulling out the character’s equipped long range weapon and firing, locking on to the nearest enemy by default. Eliot and Dogs can also engage in melee with enemies by pressing the X button.
Luckily for the heroes of our story, there are a number of ways to stack the odds in their favor. Each character is a separate entity with their own health bar and artillery at their disposal so when you find a weapon or ammunition, it will only go to the designated character. Finding food like sodas and hamburgers can also place them in your stock to heal yourself later. Your resources aren’t limited to what you can find, though that is the most efficient way to horde them. By finding safe rooms, you can utilize a number of features while the men catch their breath. The majority of the safe houses include terminals where the player can save or acquire a map of the current area. Most importantly, there are vending machines placed in these rooms and in certain other areas. These machines carry plenty of food for healing along with new weapons and ammunition to help your stockpile grow. As money drops off of most of the respawning adversaries on the island, you can easily take some time to fortify yourself before continuing on your adventure.
The Good, The Bad, And…
Like a lot of action adventure games from the late nineties, Blue Stinger is a mixed bag of good and bad features. One issue that seems to plague a lot of these titles is a terrible camera- and this game does not fall far from that tree. While the game really struggles with a lot of the indoor environments (tight hallways equal very limited camera movement), the viewpoint seems to have a hard time staying on task even in open areas, opting for off-center angles and oscillating too far and making it hard to see any incoming danger. Even with practice, if the camera isn’t fixed for a scene, it is not something you get used to by the end credits.
The game also has a tendency to stick you in positions that you just can’t get out of. For instance, on more than one occasion, I wound up stuck in a doorway being bludgeoned or clawed to death because three enemies would find their way to me before I gathered my surroundings. “Go back into the last room”, one might say. Well, without taking a step or two away from the entrances, you can’t reactivate them due to the way they’re programmed. “Just mow them down or run around them,” another defender might suggest. Between the camera angles, the large recoil window from being attacked and the enemies’ stubborn AI properties, that also becomes an issue. With save points being fairly spread out over the island, this caused some infuriating moments in gameplay.
Blue Stinger is not without its merits, though. The action is pretty top notch with auto-aim for your weapons and plenty of optional environments to explore for goodies. The writing is hokey but altogether better than would be expected (though it’s still steeped in 90s coolness) and the plot goes into some neat directions. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of payoff for a lot of them since it’s clear that Climax made this game with the expectation of a sequel from the ‘see you next adventure’ ending screen.
Looking at Blue Stinger is a mixed bag, though it’s easy to see how great the graphics were for the time. The environments are great with very rare exception, and the character models are smooth if not a bit wooden. The game shines in its outdoor area and where it’s most important for the genre- its boss designs. Back in its conception, these graphics were cutting edge when matched against most other releases. Now, they are at the very least charming.
The audio is probably the weakest part of Blue Stinger with the music constantly locked in a driving beat that makes you feel like you’re in danger no matter where you are. There are a few exceptions, but even in the ‘bit too cheery’ shopping district, there is no tone shift in the general motions of the adventure. Not to mention that the voice acting- which includes Sonic notables, Ryan Drummond and Lani Manilla- feels exaggerated at times, and while the style works for the Sonic Adventure titles, it feels out of place in the environment built up by the game’s plot and tone.
By all accounts, Blue Stinger is a strange beast; by most means, the game as a whole is not great. The plot veers in erratic ways, the camera turns intense action into trial and error do-overs far too often, and there are a number of elements that feel like they are put in place to best the player rather than challenge them.
In the end, though, the game has so many interesting and well-done pieces to the puzzle that it’s hard to outright call Blue Stinger a dud. The game compensates for some of its shortcomings really well, the playtime is short at about 8 to 10 hours, and with the strange directions the plot takes at certain junctures, they actually create some really fun moments for the player. For every negative element, there seems to be a positive counterweight to keep the game balanced in a firm place of mediocrity.
While it’s easy to see why Blue Stinger stood out in the midst of the Dreamcast library in 1999, but it never really gained the cult popularity over the years that the developer’s sister title, Illbleed, received with good reason. Blue Stinger doesn’t seem to know exactly what tone and genre it wants to go for and with all of the inspirations it seems to draw from like Jurassic Park and Resident Evil, it’s almost too erratic to be memorable for anything but those “cool moments”. If you can manage to persevere through its shortcomings, you probably won’t find a new favorite game at this point. What you will find is an interesting smattering of concepts wrapped in a jumbled and questionable gift box.