UN Squadron was one of these games. Released in 1989, it was a horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up that was, all told, pretty unoriginal. You choose from one of three characters to play whose jet fighters correspond to the usual conventions of weak-but-fast, the all-rounder, and strong-but-slow and off you fly through 10 levels of dogfighting mayhem. You accumulate points and cash, which can be redeemed between levels at a shop in exchange for power ups. The plot, such as it is, involves the evil Project 4 invading a helpless kingdom and it's up to the heroes stationed at the base codenamed Area 88 to lead the fightback and destroy the ne'er do wells. Sounds like a right old excuse for a scrap.
As it happens, UN Squadron does have a rich backstory. Area 88 was a Manga available in Japan in the early 80s, and followed the adventures of Shin Kazama (one of the playable characters). The strip was more than just a mindless blast-a-thon. Once bound to the eponymous Area 88 mercenary squadron, a pilot had to either buy themselves out of their contract or complete a three year tour of duty. Going AWOL was punishable by death. So as the series wears on, the themes got progressively darker as Shin is consumed by self-loathing for all the killing he commits. The comic was full of Biggles-esque derring-do, but the psychological toll is not left unsaid. Unfortunately, the game has none of this complexity. Wave after wave of jets, tanks, gun emplacements, and helicopters contrive to put distance between the unthinking, reflex-heavy gameplay and the thoughtful quandaries of the source material. Shame.
Needless to say, the conversion was an absolute triumph. Few games in the 16 bit area were better than their arcade inspiration, but UN Squadron was one of them. On all three fronts - graphics, sound, and gameplay the Super Nintendo exceeded the original. It was just a very well-crafted game. And when it was released, all it had to compete with in the horizontally-scrolling department were Super R-Type and the little bit ropey Gradius III. The game was tough without being cheap, the bosses taxing without being frustrating, and the right sort of difficulty pitch that meant you got that little bit further with each returning play. Enemy design was utterly superb, if sometimes a little far fetched. As cool as they look, I cannot see the military utility of fixing booster rockets to huge boulders. Justifiably, it was critically acclaimed and has since settled into a snug corner in the SNES video game canon. That helps explains why a complete version can set you back a few nicker these days.
UN Squadron is a very good, playable game I'd recommend to anyone, but it also serves as a useful case study (of which there are thousands of other examples) of fighting shy of narrative complexity, using existing tropes to construct a simple good and evil fairy tale that can influence and condition gameplayers' thinking about complex real world issues.