The 1990 fantasy action arcade game Gate of Doom (also known as Dark Seal) – by the now-defunct Data East – is the first of 20 titles Flying Tiger Entertainment plans to re-release on Nintendo’s latest system. With the assistance of “one of gaming’s worst mascots” promoting this retro line, the official rebranding for the Switch eShop version is the tongue-twisting Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Gate of Doom.
Over the years, Data East’s library of games has been made available on a number of different platforms. Gate of Doom – one of the company’s lesser-known titles – now gets its time in the spotlight once again. For anyone who may not be familiar with the source material, at a glance, this is an isometric fantasy brawler with minor role-playing elements inspired by the likes of Dungeons & Dragons, and is designed for up to two players. The story is nothing out of the ordinary, with four heroes tasked with saving the Kingdom of Etrulia as well as its princess from creatures of the underworld after the titular Gate of Doom breaks open.
These heroes include a knight, wizard, bard and ninja – with each one primed with an appropriate attack and magic spell. Besides the unique weapons, such as the flame pillar and morning star, each of the heroes has a special trait, like resistance to poison or hi-speed movement. Magic is not limited to any specific character, and the book above the magic meter grants your character the ability to use strong elemental powers. Item pick-ups can further enhance the power of a hero. Each character feels different enough, but this is unlikely to alter the experience you have – and as far as the role-playing elements go, all of this has absolute minimum impact on each play session.
Be it alone, or with a friend, your time will predominantly be spent button-mashing while you slay every enemy threat in sight. These foes range from giant blobs to skeletons, zombies, bats and even demonic creatures with wings. There’s an adequate amount of enemy variety over the handful of themed levels when you include all the bosses encountered. These hostile beasts include gigantic fire-breathing dragons and even levitating eyes that shoot deadly laser beams. The stages range from dense forests, frosty mountains with steep drops to active volcanic sites with multiple pathways. Each level is linear in progression, despite the impression of freedom offered by the isometric viewpoint.
With the controls limited to just a few inputs, there’s not really much room to strategise – even during the boss fights. Instead, it’s easier to eliminate whatever enemy moves into your line of sight in the most efficient way possible, or else avoid it altogether. During the big battles, there’ll be points during the fight when the enemy is the most vulnerable; it’s a matter of tapping away until their life meter is completely drained. About the only troublesome issue is dealing with the elemental effects that temporarily stun, poison and confuse your hero; you can even be transformed into a pig. Apart from this, the repetitive button-mashing wears thin very quickly.
The average player is unlikely to progress past the first few areas without suffering defeat. This is where Johnny Turbo’s modern enhancements come into play. There are a number of quality-of-life improvements to ensure you at least have a shot at completing the game; these include the ability to have 99 credits and make use of save states. How these changes impact your enjoyment is all very much dependant on how you want to play the game. If you want to finish it, or have a light session with a friend, making use of these features is sensible. Otherwise, you can opt for a more original challenge and set a limit on the amount of credits you use or how many save states you permit yourself. These features definitely take away the severity, making Gate of Doom a lot more accessible. Veterans can simply overlook these adjustments for the “classic” experience. If you do take the easier route, expect to finish the game at least once within half an hour to an hour. Otherwise, you could easily be stuck for days attempting to complete the near-impossible task on only a handful of credits.
The quality of the sound and visuals is sufficient. Neither of these aspects particularly shines, though the sound is somewhat better with voice acting included, and much like the game itself simply gets the job done in the most mediocre fashion possible. A number of screen filters – including scan line, RGB, composite, s-video and VHS – can be applied and the aspect ratio can be changed to make the game look like its classic counter-part, which is a nice inclusion. As for the performance, the game runs at a steady rate in both the handheld and docked mode.
Overlooking the association with the questionable Johnny Turbo brand, Gate of Doom isn’t all that bad, even if it’s a long way from being a solid-gold classic. It certainly isn’t on par with competitors from this particular era, but it at least manages to provide the essentials that make brawlers like this fun for one or two people for a short period. The modern enhancements – much like the game itself – do a satisfactory job at fulfilling the basic requirements. The main issue is that the premise of these types of games is too simple and repetitive by modern standards, something which is likely to put off newcomers. If you have fond memories of playing this in the arcade then you’ll love this Switch port, but everyone else should take their time before making a purchase.