Battleclash is a first-person rail shooter. Like Space Gun (Taito, 1992--also a first-person rail shooter, I might add), Battleclash has a minimum of overt, textual storytelling, and yet arguably the majority of the narrative experience in the game is in my opinion found in each of the levels’ background graphics (as an aside, I should also mention the cliche’d coincidence that the original Japanese title of Battleclash is actually “Space Bazooka”). In fact, each of the levels in which you play, and in the associated maps and menu graphics, a tale is being told of a future Earth that has been ravaged by all manner of disasters.
The very first indication of this widespread destruction is found in the world map presented to the player initially as soon as you have finished calibrating the Super Scope at the very start of the game, and periodically throughout the gameplay as you advance in the levels. The global map is very telling--aside from giving you the pertinent information such as the location of all the Chiefs (the bosses you must defeat in order to advance), the land itself is but an approximation of the real life global map we all know--much of the land masses seem to have been flooded. As a child who had his adolescence in the 90s, I can attest to the general public emphasis on global warming and the potential risks of rising sea levels and melting polar ice caps, and the resultant nightmarish fictional extrapolations in popular media and film. I think that the map of Battleclash is a grim exploration of that very fear. It gives the player the necessary info (who must we beat next in order to get closer to a world without anarchy and chaos?) and the extra flooded-Earth imagery which supplements and potentially enhances the need for the player to save what remains of humanity in this cursed version of Earth.
As mentioned earlier, each of the fight levels presents further imagery which hints at the destruction and chaos of the Earth in which this game takes place:
1st Level vs. Garam: New York is in ruins, and the Statue of Liberty is shown leaning against destroyed skyscrapers. Although I recognize that the Statue of Liberty being destroyed seems to be getting old as tropes go, it still retains its narrative symbolic function--to indicate that New York itself has been either hurt or destroyed, and depending on the severity of the narrative, perhaps this destruction has also extended to the greater United States at large. If one were to wax poetic, it could also mean that the concept of Freedom is injured or dead. But for the purposes of Battleclash, this is a bit of a stretch. Still, the indication is clear--New York is no more.
2nd Level vs. Scarab: The fight appears to take place in Egypt by the great Pyramid, but the image of the Pyramid in the background seems to have some of the facades cracked away to reveal a kind of techno-mountain. Furthermore, there is an oil tanker/freighter lying propellers-up in the desert just to the left of the Pyramids. I have no idea what the story is here, but it’s intriguing as all hell.
3rd Level vs. Lorca: All of London is underwater. In fact, the waterline resides just below the iconic clock of Big Ben.
4th Level vs. Artemis: The battle takes place in the Andes mountains of South America, and the backdrop is probably the most natural of those other locales found in the game, but with one glaring exception: the mountain peaks have giant angled craters in their summits and sides, indicating either a catastrophic meteor shower or the scars of space-borne weaponry.
5th Level vs. Schneider: Kyoto seems awfully intact with respect to the rest of the world. As a 12-year-old kid who knew nothing actual about Japan, playing through this stage which consisted of factories, large storage tanks, and other signs of industrialization mixed in with imagery of giant golden/bronze Buddha Statues and Pagodas in the far background seemed to be not only an obvious aesthetic choice for Japan, but also further fueled my cyberpunk images of Japan (I have Bubblegum Crisis to thank for that). Oddly though, knowing what I know about Japan now, as a 35-year-old who has spend 11 years here at the time of this writing, looking on this industrialized Kyoto level now, with its odd, claustrophobic mix of factories and cultural tourist magnets, I can only think that “Oh, this can’t be Kyoto--the city ordinances strictly forbid buildings THAT tall to be built.” It’s then that I know in my accursed adult heart that I’m old.
6th Level vs. Ivan: The battle against this gargantuan crab-like ST takes place on a huge Aircraft carrier somewhere in Oceania.
7th Level vs. Valius: The Space Elevator, which seems to have been maintained and still in pristine condition. Though this does not indicate chaos, rather, it seems to me to lend further support to the premise of the story--that those in power hold control over the means to control the lesser populace.
8th Level vs. Baron: The Moonbase. Likely one of the most opulent places in the game. As it was with the previous stage, this area seems to indicate an upper class which no longer resides on the desolate and chaotic Earth (a similar situation lies at the heart of one of my favorite manga series of all-time, “Battle Angel Alita”).
9th Level vs. Thanatos: This level is, to borrow a highly-technical term, bananas. The ground is paved with skeletons arranged to look like humanoid spiders, the secondary background is some strange, alien-pink-purple undulating organic tissue, and on top of all that, everything is constantly moving up and down as a sickly light pulsates in the back. I have no clue how this came to be or what this may indicate. All this level does is screw me up and make me feel as though I accidentally fell down into hell. This is even more disconcerting because, until this point, Battleclash had made me very comfortable (in fact, entertained) by the fact that it was a sci-fi anime. And now, suddenly, we are in hell.
To be frank, the reasons why I still ponder this 1992 SNES game are many:
1) It is extremely fun
2) The soundtrack is quite rocking. In fact, back in the day, I pressed my walkman recorder up to my TV speaker and recorded the soundtrack on to audio cassette tape so that I could take this digital sci-fi robot battle for the future soundtrack with me.
3) The fictional world in which this game takes place is both intriguing and desperate. Usually, this sort of human desperation--that “humanity on its last legs”-scenario--just depresses me, but in video games where you as the player character protagonist have a shot (forgive the pun) at saving what’s left, it was downright inspiring.
If you have the chance, you can probably find a Battleclash ROM somewhere in the wilds of the internet. Sadly, this ROM is not compatible with the original Super Scope, so you have to play it with the mouse. My friend Dan Paredes of Infinite Lives and Meet the Games said it best: “It was horrible to play [Battleclash] that way, but at least you got to play it again.”