An endlessly inventive adventure, Emmerich'd up to eleven.
When I first starting playing Disaster: Day of Crisis, I had no idea what to expect. I'd heard of its troubles in procuring an American release (sadly, four years later, it appears it will never transpire) and had seen the episode of the Two Best Friends YouTube show gently mocking some of its more outrageous elements and unfortunate foibles. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with the type of game it turned out to be. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find out that Disaster: Day of Crisis was created by Monolith Software, the developers of the recent Xenoblade Chronicles, a game I rate very highly. In retrospect, that level of quality is evident here as well.
Though relatively unknown in the West, the disaster genre is a big seller in Japan. The Zettai Zetsumi Toshi series, which saw localizations with various names such as Disaster Report and Raw Danger, is a particularly well-regarded series in its native land, reaching three core entries before the tragic events of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake put a dampener on things and Irem respectfully halted the fourth game's production and withdrew the others from the various digital outlets that sold them. In fact, it's in the light of those events that covering this game now might seem kind of tasteless, so I deeply apologize for any offence caused. Really, this review was spurred on by a much delayed recent playthrough rather than an attempt at anything topical.
The game follows one Raymond Bryce, an ex-soldier and former member of International Rescue Force, currently languishing in a pit of self-doubt after unsuccessfully saving his friend and partner from a grisly lava-based death during an immense volcanic eruption in South America. A bit like Sly Stallone's character in Cliffhanger, you might say. In fact, this allows me to neatly segue into what I loved most about this game: The endless cribbing from Hollywood blockbusters, either directly or in its OTT attitude. Raymond's backstory matches that of Cliffhanger's tragic hero, right down to the "hanging over a chasm and not being able to hold on" prologue while the antagonists are a bunch of honorable ex-military types that were betrayed by the US Government and are attempting to bluff them by threatening to fire off stolen weapons of mass destruction to earn reparations for their fallen squadmates (Nic Cage and Sean Connery are sadly nowhere to be seen) and each disaster is punctuated with over-the-top moments, whether it's escaping a pyroclastic flow with children in tow (Dante's Peak) or surviving being thrown around by hurricanes (Twister) or making one's way through a flooded small Southern town while engaged in the occasional shootout (Hard Rain?). The game takes pains to use its "Disaster Files" datalog to ground the unnatural disasters of the game with some factoids about actual historical catastrophes, details on exactly how and why they happen and potentially useful information about what to do when you're caught in one of these acts of an angry and vengeful God. Yet the in-game action never lets up on the ludicrousness for a second, making the experience akin to some wonderfully goofy Hollywood roller-coaster of the type Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay might headline. At one point, a minor villain even straight up "hoo-rahs" an oncoming tsunami and I'm pretty sure he was serious.
As for the actual gameplay, well, it's generally all over the place. But in a good way. Protagonist Ray is always on the move towards one objective or another, usually involving the emancipation of his dead partner's kidnapped sister from the ex-military mercs that are using the disasters as a smokescreen for a nuke heist, but the game often changes tracks depending on what's happening right that second. While a good half of the game takes place in its "battle mode", a rather inoffensively dull light-gun mode that uses the Wii Remote to take down leagues of enemy mercenaries with upgradeable weapons, the rest spends its time in a character action mode where Ray runs (and occasionally swims) around dilapidated areas hit by the disasters, saving people with a mix of "rescue" mini-games that can range from simply fetching first aid supplies to restarting hearts with rhythm-based CPR sequences. There are also underwater sequences, driving sequences, points where the air is poisonous with toxic ash and Ray must dart from safe area to safe area, a skydiving sequence and even a sequence where Ray must disarm a booby-trapped nuclear device by following instructions over a radio that just so happens to cut out right at the crucial "red wire or blue wire?" moment. To say this game wears its movie influences on its sleeve is an understatement.
For the most part, all these divergent sequences tend to vary from "competently playable" to "genuinely fun", but nothing really stands out. Rather, it's the sheer variety that is the appealing factor, with any potential hit-or-miss aspect alleviated by the sheer number of experiences that follow one after another in quick succession. If you don't like a particular sequence (and it'll almost certainly be the lamentable driving stages), it'll probably be over in a matter of minutes and the game will hastily move onto something else for a while. The motion controls I'll begrudgingly admit are used well, with almost every sequence using some variant of the Wii Remote's capabilities, with intermittent radio chatter and news broadcasts piped through the remote's speakers. Really, when discussing motion controls, you either want a game to avoid the feature entirely or go the whole hog, as is the case here. An occasional shoehorned-in sequence does nobody any favors.
Graphically the game is impressive, though with that ever-present caveat of "for a Wii game". There's no denying that the massive set-pieces in this game would look incredible with the HD that the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 is capable of, but what we see here definitely suffices. The rather wooden character models are a little less inspiring, though they're entirely tolerable given the purposefully archetypal natures of the characters they represent. The slightly less wooden voice performances from the cast of VA veterans are better and, not to spoil anything, but you basically save Nanako from a volcano. The character/weapon upgrade systems are perfunctory enough, and can be accessed during the game's "intermission" interstitial screen to allow Ray to kick more ass with his arsenal or be a more efficient lifesaving machine. Also available are the game's shooting galleries - an opportunity to sharpen one's light-gun chops and possibly unlock a few bonus weapons, ranging from a pile of junk to ridiculous pulse beam weapons straight out of Eraser - and the player is also free to save/load, tinker with the options or take a gander at the game's growing list of Disaster Files and tutorials.
As I stated in the first paragraph, I had no idea what to expect going into this game. I figured it was safe to assume this would be a flawed but interesting game of a budget-y quality, given its lack of fanfare and that AWOL American release. As it turns out, this is actually one of the most fun and ambitious Wii games I've ever played and every bit the antecedent, if in spirit only, of the developer's equally zealous Xenoblade Chronicles. As we steadily approach the WiiU's launch, it's nice to know that at least one developer out there still takes Nintendo's consoles seriously. I mean, besides Nintendo.