Do you remember that Indiana Jones film that began with Harrison Ford waking up in a bar, grabbing a rocket launcher which he then used to decimate a group of evil poachers who were terrorizing the local wildlife? Oh, c’mon! You don’t remember that one? Okay, okay… well how about when Indy teamed up with an elephant halfway through the movie and used his new found ally to headbutt a military tank so it would explode and clear a path to the next area? You’ve got to be joking! Everyone knows that part of the film, it’s legendary! Alright, how about the finale when Dr. Jones goes fist-to-fist with a masked, tuxedo wearing, golden-claw wielding psycho who unleashes a massive parasite from his body when he dies that is actually controlling all the poachers and making them so damn evil!?…
So that Indy film never really happened but Taito’s 1990 beat em’ up arcade classic – and I use classic very lightly here – Growl certainly did. I honestly don’t know where to begin with Growl. I don’t know if it’s perhaps the greatest arcade game ever made or one of the worst. I first experienced Growl when it was popped into the Taito Legends 2 compilation that was released for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Windows back in 2006. Ever since then, I’ve thought that more people have to play it, I can’t explain why, the reasons remain unknown but it just needs to be played and that’s all you can really say about some things.
1…2…3… and you’re off! Sprinting through streets, leaping onto trains, sailing on boats and ducking through caves filled with so much lava, that even King Bowser would be thinking about bowing out. You hear a lot of stories about poachers but, Christ almighty, you haven’t heard any stories about these ones, let me tell you! Dubai businessmen, 60’s themed thugs, skimpy ladies and Arabian night themed warriors are all out to serve you up some poached eggs… I’m just kidding with a little yolk there. So you’ve been getting assaulted by an onslaught of stereotypes and suddenly, just to scramble egg things up, our old friend Dr. Salvador from Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 shows up. He’s a bit younger here, he’s not got his infamous chainsaw yet but he still looks pissed off. Maybe after his stint in Growl he decided that he would spend the rest of his days in a sacrificial cult-infested Las-Plagas rural country village in Spain, which allowed him to just sit and chomp on a few poached eggs until some special agent came along to ruin his life. Right, I’d best stop cracking these poor egg jokes as I’m going off tangent. So how does our hero, well Indiana Jones, escape this boss enemy? Simple, he takes the next eggs-it off screen.
The number of enemies that often find their way stumbling onto the screen from all angles is very impressive, there’s usually about twelve enemies or so on screen trying to fry your bacon to compliment their poached eggs. The beat em’ up mechanics are simple but pretty stylish, it’s a bit more style over substance but the majority of early arcade beat em’ ups always were. There’s a nice mix of weapons to use throughout the course of the adventure, the whip seals the deal as it provides plenty of opportunities to pretend you’re Indiana Jones in his prime. Each area is well detailed and the arcade version’s graphics are excellent looking for its release period. There’s many more bizarre moments in Growl that I don’t want to spoil here because the game really does merit a playthrough.
There must have been a lot of weird reactions when people played Growl in the arcades. I can just imagine people waggling and tugging their joysticks as they pop some more coins in the slot in an attempt to reach the juicy climax, only to walk away in disbelief due to the realization of what they just played. Growl is fun. Chaotic fun at its finest. Saving animals, watching animals beat up poachers, being Indy, horrendous dialogue and overall madness wasn’t ever going to have Growl winning any awards upon its release 22 years ago, but it has won me over and that’s all that matters.