I've always admired the rather twisted morals of the 80s, especially when it came to action movies - if the cause was strong enough, any kind of violence was totally and completely acceptable. Nowadays, in the 21st century, American action movies heroes fight to save the country from the nebulous threat of terrorism, but remember when all they used to do was blow up drug lords? Not to marginalize the threat of drug usage, but was all the killing and destruction really necessary if all they were doing was depriving a couple of college kids from a few weeks worth of marijuana? However, it's true that boring things like trade sanctions won't really fix problems, and if there's anything action heroes love doing, it's cutting through bureaucracy to resolve the issue as quickly (and brutally) as possible.
Since most decent arcade games are based off of these gloriously amazing popcorn flicks, it's only natural that these themes poured over into the realm of video gaming. One of the most notable was Midway's NARC. There was a button on the NARC cabinet labeled "Rocket" which, when pressed, would cause every drug dealer in your path to explode. Practically every American arcade machine during the 80s had a "Winners Don't Do Drugs!" message, approved by one William S. Sessions of the FBI (although ironically my father rarely took me to arcades when I was a kid because he was convinced they were all fronts for coke smugglers) but apparently that message just wasn't effective enough, because druggies deserved no less than completely dismemberment.
Taito's Growl (known as Runark in Japan) is a beat-em-up that takes a similarly over-the-top attitude towards a different politically correct topic: poaching. Yes, yes, we've all heard fur is murder, but most official organizations just fight this by hiring a bunch of naked models to stand in the streets, to absolutely no one's objections. As sad as it may be, this doesn't get results, so that's where the Ranger Corps comes in.
There are four characters in Growl, since up to four players can play at the same time. The character select screen would have you think there was some difference between them, but they're all pretty much the same. Two of them wear hats. Two of them wear bandanas and sunglasses. Their names, according to the Genesis version, are Gen, Burn, Khan, and Jack. At the beginning of the game, their bar is destroyed by some random jerks ("Drop dead you scum!", they taunt in the least threatening voice imaginable), and it's up to them to swear revenge ("You won't get away with this", your hero swears before picking himself off the ground), and maybe save some animals along the way.
Right at the beginning, there are four rocket launchers on the ground, which blow up enemies real good. Get in a good shot and all kinds of severed limbs will be flying all over the place, although curiously, there isn't much actual blood. Although the launchers have limited ammo, you can find tons of other weapons scattered through the levels, including pipes, machine guns, pistols, swords and whips. You can pick up barrels, rocks and cars, or kick chairs around the screen, which glide around and bounce off walls, as if to give physics a virtual rogering. Growl often fills the screen with a dozen or more bad guys at a time, and unlike some other beat-em-ups, fallen bodies take several seconds to disappear, leaving you to fight over mountains of dead foes.
On the chance that you don't have a weapon, you can pound on the attack button to unleash a rapid fire flurry of punches and kicks, or double tap the joystick to execute a headbutt. You can also execute spinning jump kicks by pressing both the attack and jump buttons, but that's generally about as expansive as your moveset gets. It's not nearly as tight as, say, Final Fight or any of Capcom's other brawlers, but it's so fast and responsive that it's hard to complain. Plus you can beat up enemies while they're still on the ground, slamming them in the face or flipping them over your shoulder. Even the post apocalyptic punk heroes of Double Dragon allowed their enemies to get back on their feet before continuing to pummel them, but the heroes of Growl take their love of animals seriously. ("What do you jerks think you're doing?" your hero enquires when they find a bird being accosted.) Any animals you come across will help you out if you save them - deer will stampede across enemies, eagles will drop stolen rocket launchers into your hands, and elephants will trample around the screen gleefully.
The major problem with Growl is that it blows its load right at the beginning. I'm not even kidding when I say that the first five minutes of Growl is one of my favorite arcade games ever, but gameplay-wise, you've seen the best of it right in the first several screens. You fight the same handful of recolored enemies over and over (including Indiana Jones-style thuggies, 1920s style newspaper boys, and women that appear to be nightclub singers), and most of the levels look exactly the same. The first stage is a village. Then you ride on the top of a train to another village. Eventually you'll go through a cave to yet another village and then the game is over. Some kind of variation - heck, just giving the heroes different abilities - would've been nice. And as to be expected with an arcade beat-em-up, at times the enemies are just way to overwhelming, requiring you to credit feed to continue.
So when it seems that maybe the ridiculous shock of Growl might be wearing off, roughly two thirds of the way through, the game turns it out when you're fight on a boat, and then literally out of the sky pops Jason from Friday the 13th, who proceeds to kick the shit of you. In the next screen, the music grows silent as your wily foes bring out a heavily armored tank - and right before your hero concedes shameful defeat, the stirring main theme music starts up and an elephant pops out of the side of the screen, ramming into it and saving the day. From there, it takes a cryptic note of the NES Double Dragon by featuring some ill conceived platforming segments in a cave, before finally delivering you to the final boss, who arrives on the playing field carry yet another tank, wears a tuxedo and top hat, and appears to have a grenade launcher for a head. When you kill it, Growl's epic plot truly unfolds in a single line of exposition - the evil hunters are all controlled by a giant caterpillar monster, whose magical abilities including spinning around and causing the screen to shimmer. When you kill the "poacher king", the animals celebrate and there are fireworks.
Also, whenever you die and choose to continue, a gigantic spiked ceiling drops from the sky and crushes all of the enemies on the field. If you were playing in the arcade, that alone would be worth your quarter.
Growl doesn't exactly have the greatest reputation, and I'm betting the people that disparage it have only played the Genesis home version. The graphics have all been completely redone, and while they don't really look all that faithful, they still look pretty decent. The problem is that your character doesn't attack nearly as fast as the arcade version - so not only is it not as fun, but you end up getting overwhelmed pretty quickly. Most of the hilarious flippancy is gone, and all of the voice clips have been removed. Strangely, the arcade version had a spelling error (the voice clearly says "Get lost you wimp" but the text says "Get lost you wisp"), and despite the lack of the voice, the spelling error still remains. It's also only single player. So yeah, it kinda sucks. Luckily, the recently released Taito Legends 2 for the PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox contains an arcade emulation of the original. (It's also featured on the Taito Memories Joukan Vol. 1 release for the Japanese PS2.)