Also called Dead Angle and Gang Hunter in the West, Lead Angle is the follow-up to Seibu Kaihatsu’s Empire City: 1931 which hit Japanese arcades in 1986. The sequel, released in 1988, introduced a number of improvements over the previous game. They help it get off to a great start, but things begin to stumble as it gets closer to the final act.
For shmup fans, Seibu Kaihatsu’s biggest claim to fame is the Raiden series, but the developer has been around since 1982, pumping out games that are often licensed by others such as Taito and Fabtek for distribution. From the flyer above, Tecmo apparently also got into the game with Lead Angle.
In Empire City, players controlled an aiming sight that they used to pan around a large, 2D playing area with enemies popping out of windows, doorways, alley corners, and all sorts of other places with a few actually running along the side of the street. They could even dodge fire from timed shots. In the end, the “story” finished with the assassination of the Mob Boss that took out your family.
In Lead Angle, the Mob has kidnapped the love of your life in a typical “damsel in distress” setup and its up to you to plow through several different “Families” with lead on your way to Chicago for a final showdown with the capo di tutti capi.
This time, unlike in Empire City, there is no “timed shot” clock to instantly kill you if you fail to find a target in seconds. The player now has a health meter to keep them playing longer and engaged in the action which is a welcome change. It’s also no longer in first-person. Players now view a wireframe version of the back of the main character — similar in concept to games like Punch Out! — who follows the aiming sight that you still control with a joystick.
There are a lot more enemies to perforate here than in Empire City, but the good news is that you also get weapon drops courtesy of red-suited bad guys that show up from time to time such as a shotgun or a machine gun (tommy gun). Both have limited uses but are great for filling the quota of bad guys you need to kill on your way through to the end. There are even grenades to toss around if bullets aren’t enough. The enemy will also throw a few of these your way later on and unlike the bullets in this game, will turn you into a red paste if you don’t move out of the way or shoot them in time.
Each stage has a certain number of baddies to kill displayed by a gauge below the health bar before players confront the tough “boss” or “bosses” and the game has a few creative backdrops such as docks where you can shoot cargo crates from ropes, dropping them on unlucky enemies, or a ship with bad guys shooting at you from windows. The visuals do a decent job with damage decals on most anything else that catches a bullet besides the bad guys and the sound effects provide plenty of ear candy.
Difficulty-wise, it gets incredibly crazy towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, Seibu Kaihatsu apparently hasn’t learned from Empire City’s shortcomings in striking a balance between an earnest challenge and a none-too-subtle push towards dropping more quarters into the coinbox to continue the fight from where you died. Some of the things the game throws at you later are the bosses you defeated, mixing one or two of them up with the regular thugs for added flavor (or frustration) along with a gratuitous amount of enemies, but the final stage is probably where more than a few players will quit the game.
In Empire City, if you fail the final challenge, you have to play through the eighth stage all over again. In Lead Angle, failing to kill the army of thugs protecting the boss (who is hiding behind a wall of transparent, bulletproof glass with your beloved at his side) resets the entire level. In the previous stages, if you exhausted all of your lives and continued, it didn’t reset the number of thugs you needed to kill to clear them. The final stage does while throwing a few of the previous stages’ bosses back in your face along with a host of minions and grenades. It’s probably a very good reason why no one has posted an end-game from the arcade version at places like Youtube.
Lead Angle was ported over to the Sega Master System as Dead Angle for the West, but never found itself ported to anything else after that. At the same time, it’s hard not to see why because by 1988, competition from the likes of Taito’s hugely popular Operation Wolf which came out a year earlier demolished the bar that Lead Angle had been sitting on. It’s interesting to think how things could have turned out for this gangland shooting gallery if it did the same thing separated as it was by degrees when it came to interfaces. Maybe if it came out with the kind of force-feedback gun gimmick that Operation Wolf did so well — and fixed a few things with its gameplay — it might not have to sleep with the fishes.