Desert Strike Review (Sega Genesis / Mega Drive)

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After the success of previous mature titles such as Road Rash and F-22 Interceptor, Electronic Arts launched what was to be another great new franchise. In 1992, Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf hit the shelves and took the world by storm, due to both it’s overall quality and controversy surrounding the subject matter.

You see, some people felt that it capitalised on the recent Gulf War, impersonalising it through the use of heavy weapons. There were also reports of Veterans burning copies of the game in protest, which when you look at games today shows just how far the boundaries have been pushed in terms of war, realism and entertainment.

But let’s not focus too heavily on desensitisation in media and public perception for this video. Instead, let’s take a look at what’s on offer here;

“Get to the Chopper!”

As you heard at the start of this video, Desert Strike has one of the best sounding intros for the Mega Drive (in my opinion anyway). It really gets the blood pumping, preparing you for action and excitement! Although… that doesn’t quite reflect the pace of the game.

The sense of urgency only really comes from limited resources; most notably the fuel. Your Apache Helicopter comes loaded with a machine gun and two types of rockets which vary in quantity and power. The balance is good here, it feels fair, and additional fuel and ammo can be found via the map screen.


During gameplay, you navigate each level with freedom to explore and carry out the order of certain objectives. This approach helps Desert Strike feel less linear and allows for flexibility and strategy that can affect the difficulty.

For example; in earlier missions you must seek and destroy the enemy radar system. In later levels it’s not a set objective, but in doing so it can weaken their forces giving you an advantage. This can be crucial to survival as your helicopter cannot take much damage, so planning and efficiency is key.

Thankfully, there is a password system in place should you need to continue progress or restart a level, as save states weren’t very common back then.

Graphics & Sound

As the name implies this game does take place over desert land, so there isn’t much in terms of different locales. You will see sand… and lots of it! I often find that desert or ice levels in games are a bit dull, but somehow Desert Strike manages to keep things interesting. The game is displayed from an isometric perspective with wonderfully detailed graphics. Little buildings, trees, camps and outposts scatter the landscape. The pixel art here impressed me back then and still does today.

As far as sound goes it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but not necessarily for bad reasons. The intro and cutscenes are good, but there isn’t any music during the missions. All you can hear is sound effects such as your helicopter, gunfire and explosions. This, mixed with the lack of a HUD (Head-Up Display) actually makes the experience more immersive.

A Few Minor Issues

There are a few minor issues that make this title not quite perfect. Such things as targeting enemies can be a little tricky at times and some people may wish for a bit more variety in the level locations, but nothing here prevents Desert Strike from being a well polished game. Later instalments do offer more variety, but this was my favourite in the series.

Have you ever played this game? If so, please let me know what you think of the game and your experiences in the comments below.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf Review Summary

A Essential
Desert Strike can easily be regarded as a 16-bit classic. With great visuals, tight controls, a good measure of challenge and a surprising amount of depth, this game should be an essential part of anyone's Mega Drive and Genesis collection

My first games console was the Mega Drive and I've been in love with video games ever since. Over the years I've owned many systems, which I hope to cover in the future. Most of the things I write and do videos about is considered "retro", but I do enjoy playing my Xbox One and PS4 as well...

Posted on February 19, 2015 | Last modified: 2nd February 2016