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Elevator Action Review Rewind

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On 03/21/2022 at 10:30 AM by Jamie Alston

Tactical Espionage Action

Not as impressive as in its arcade heyday, but a fun concept to revisit now and then.

“Elevator” and “action” aren’t words that typically belong in the same sentence. But lo and behold, Taito released an arcade game in 1983 that would pair a mundane function with the trappings of a spy thriller in the game Elevator Action. You play the role of a secret agent that finds himself at the top of everyone’s hit list. Avoiding certain death requires cunning, skill, and riding a lot of elevators. It made a big enough impression to become a cult classic that people remembered fondly.

By the time it was ported to the NES four years later, the game was already dated. And it didn’t help that the screenshots on the back of the cover art were from the higher resolution arcade version. You are government operative Agent 17- better known by his code name “Otto.” The game begins with Otto snaking his way down a grappling hook and entering a roof-level building. Your goal is to sneak into each building, steal their top-secret documents, and make a break for it. But, of course, it’s easier said than done thanks to the armed enemy agents who really, really don’t want you to get your hands on those documents.

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Elevator Action is built around deceptively simple mechanics. First, you must travel from floor to floor to find the secret documents behind red doors. The elevators come in handy as your primary mode of transportation for moving between floors and eventually exiting through the basement garage. You can either attack or evade the enemy agents on your way down. Once you leave the building, you move on to the next one and do it again.

There are several ways to take down an enemy. You can shoot them with your pistol or kick them in the face for a quick close-quarters victory. If you time your shot right while moving between floors, you can also hit the light fixture on the ceiling, which will come crashing down on an enemy agent’s head. And if the baddies are foolish enough to walk under or above an elevator while you’re controlling it, you can crush them like a soda can.

Of course, just about anything you can do, they can too. The only things they can’t do are shoot down ceiling lights or jump. But they make up for it with the ability to crouch and shoot at you while inside an elevator- something Otto is unable to do. It’s an interesting dynamic that keeps you on your toes when moving from floor to floor or trying to dodge gunfire after procuring a document.

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Much of the challenge comes from the endless numbers of agents pouring out of doors as you get closer to the exit. They’ll employ all manner of tactics to keep you from getting out alive. In particular, they love to crouch while shooting- especially in elevators- giving you little time to react. If you happen to be moving between floors when being shot at, all you can do is try to jump over the bullet coming your way. Doing so becomes increasingly difficult when multiple agents start shooting at you. In the arcade version, shots fired moved slower across the screen, making them easier to dodge. But on the NES, those bullets fly much faster. As you make your way down to the final floors, the number of elevators increases, requiring you to coordinate your moves carefully.

Besides the onslaught of enemy agents, you’ll also need to beware of the inherent hazards of the elevators themselves. While Otto can ride on top of a moving elevator, he cannot directly control its movements. It is a risky move that can quickly get you out of a jam if you’re trying to evade an en enemy. Still, it can also lead to you getting crushed, especially if said enemy is inside the elevator at the time. Jumping across an empty shaft is equally dangerous if the elevator is beneath Otto. The cable in the middle will block his trajectory and likely cause an untimely demise. As annoying as these factors can be, I appreciate at least having the option to take the risk if necessary.

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As an 8-bit home console port, the game does an admirable job of replicating the arcade version. Not surprisingly, though, the graphics take the brunt of the hit in terms of system limitations. The color palette and levels designs aren’t as good to look at as in the arcade. Then again, the original game’s visuals won’t exactly blow your mind either. In any case, it gets the job done sufficiently enough. The NES version also mimics the blackout effect when the building temporarily goes dark after shooting out a light fixture. Of all the sacrifices that had to be made in porting this to the NES, I’m glad that the blackout effect wasn’t one of them.

Most reviews of the NES port of Elevator Action negatively compare the music to the arcade version. However, I found no issue with the simple musical score during my time with the game. Sure, it’s super repetitive and not nearly as catchy as other video games of its era. Still, it uses the same tune from the arcade original (which people laud over this game as if there’s a significant difference), albeit with a more simplistic composition. The sound effects are alright as well. Again, not much to write home about, but it mostly stays faithful to the arcade original.

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In addition to the notoriety this game receives for being a cult classic among arcade aficionados, Elevator Action can also be considered an innovator. It encouraged the player to use creative tactics like shooting out light fixtures for a slight advantage or determining if it’s worthwhile to engage an enemy or avoid unnecessary confrontation. Such elements laid the groundwork for major blockbusters like the Metal Gear and Splinter Cell series, even if inadvertently. 

The game won’t appeal to everyone as readily as perhaps a flashier arcade game would. However, the easy-to-pick-up gameplay mechanics make for an accessible retro title that isn’t hampered by obtuse controls or impenetrable design choices requiring an instruction manual. It even manages to throw in a little tactile planning if you choose to go that route. Individual taste may vary, but Elevator Action is a good choice for the nostalgic gamer looking for some old-school fun in short bursts.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Cary Woodham

03/22/2022 at 08:32 AM

I didn't like the first Elevator Action as much, mainly because I wasn't very good at it.  But I sure did enjoy Elevator Action Returns on the Taito Legends collections.  That was like a cross between Elevator Action and Rolling Thunder.  Otto even shows up in cameos in Taito games to this day, like Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders.

There's actually a pretty recent new Elevator Action game that was in arcades called Elevator Action: Death Parade.  It was a light gun game like Time Crisis, but you had a button you could use to close and open real life elevator doors that would cover the screen!  You could even use those doors as shields!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/25/2022 at 02:01 PM

I think I've heard of Death Parade at some point in the past. I've never seen it, but it sounds like a fun concept. I love me some Time Crisis! NES Elevator Action is one of those games where I always think I should be able to make it pretty for into the game since the concept is so simple, but I can barely make it to stage 3!  LOL.


03/23/2022 at 05:53 AM

Compared to almost every Atari-era arcade conversion, the NES version of Elevator Action is a masterpiece. Even on the NES, Elevator Action is one of the better conversions, especially when even Donkey Kong had over 25 percent of the game cut out on the NES.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/25/2022 at 02:03 PM

Yeah, the game was pretty solid on the NES, all things considered.


03/27/2022 at 03:50 AM

I recently learned that there is a Game Boy port as well. And watching it on YouTube, it's pretty good.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/29/2022 at 05:22 PM

Oh yes, I actually have it on my Game Boy too. It's really good and easier to progress further into the game.

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