Brought to you by the New World Order.
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
PUBLISHER: Milton Bradley
GENRE: Arcade shooter
RELEASE DATE: June 1990
I’ve always wondered what war would be like if governments looked to movie producers and video game developers for inspiration. “General, we have an entire army at our disposal, but we really only need… one man.” If that isn’t the tag line for Cabal, it certainly should be. Now for some real talk: besides sounding like a type of exotic underarm deodorant intended to lure unsuspecting girls into goofy men’s beds, a “cabal” is defined as a “conspiratorial group of plotters and intriguers,” which totally goes against what this game stands for. If Rare had the decency to name a game Cabal they should at least look up the definition of the word first.
Then again, I doubt much thought or effort went into this game. From what I understand, during the NES days, Rare was cranking out about a game a month, which is both impressive and terrifying. The results are mixed, surprisingly; one would expect a level of LJN quality for all of the games, considering their quick production. As far as Cabal is concerned, it’s a fairly average run-and-gun action game that easily feels like it could have been conceived, produced, and shipped within a month. Your whole purpose is to take on the entire military of some foreign country – probably South American or Middle Eastern, given the game’s release date of 1990 – and leave no prisoners. You’re equipped with guns, grenades, and more guns to get the job done.
What makes the game different than, say, Contra, is the perspective. Instead of a side-scroller, you’re attacking the enemy from a third-person perspective. In other words, your protagonist is in the foreground, and the enemies come to do damage from the background. It’s a cool idea, but it isn’t executed well. The enemies come at you like you’re Arnold, Sly, and Van Damme combined, and all you have to hide from their onslaught of bullets and Molotov cocktails is a piddly little wall. The wall breaks down over time, and eventually, you’re in the fray without any place to hide. The first couple levels aren’t so bad, but the game ramps up the difficulty quicker than you can say “snot rocket.” It also doesn’t help that your shooting cursor is always a couple steps behind you. You control your guy’s movement with the D-pad, but you also control the cursor this way, and as a result, the cursor lags which can result in abundant deaths and frustration for you. The enemy bar at the bottom of the screen is the only way you know if you’re doing damage. Obviously, the bigger enemies you destroy – tanks, helicopters, buildings, etc – the more life you take off.
Cabal is pretty generous with five lives and three continues, but there’s no password system to move further in the game. This would be ok if the game seemed to take actual skill to beat – again, if it were like Contra. Sadly, it feels like just a random mishmash of decent ideas that don’t congeal well into an actual game, regardless of if it’s a mindless shooter or an action-RPG (which is a genre that didn’t technically exist yet, unless you count Zelda, but the term hadn’t been coined then, so it’s hard to sa-).