I'm a silent operator, won't you please take my hand, I am so polite, I'm the Elevator (Action Returns) man.
Elevator Action Returns may open quietly, but the quick cuts between action, "EMERGENCY" warnings, and the game's cast of characters sets the pace perfectly from the second the Taito and Ving logos fade. It doesn't really let up from there, with the only real respite you'll find being the character select screen, which gives you a moment to pick between big dumb himbo action man Jad the Taff, pretty boy Kart Bradfield, and my personal pick - gun expert
and shaman Edie Burret. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses (as well as their own off-brand weapons, like the Glog-18 and Dessert Eagle), providing some versatility in who you pick besides aesthetics, though you won't need to strategize much given Elevator Action Returns' strong focus on reflexive gameplay. Hesitate or fail to scope out a floor - typically while engaged with enemies above or below - and you'll get your dome blown off like Leo in The Departed. Or eaten by dogs. Sometimes both! That's alright, though. I'm a dog lover, so I just hope I taste good.
There's not much here in terms of bespoke level gimmicks, but this works well for the type of game Elevator Action Returns is. By keeping it strictly focused on movement between levels and racing through dangerous corridors to diffuse bombs, Returns keeps the action moving at a steady clip, and that's pretty much what you want for an arcade game. That's not to say things don't get shaken up, but it usually comes in the form of big cinematic set pieces that don't impair the flow of gameplay. Each level is set in a wildly different location, like an airport terminal or an oil rig, which creates this sort of Die Hard feeling of being trapped in a terrorist-occupied location as a one-man army with zero regard for collateral damage.
Each level packs a ton of detail that would make it feel "alive" even if dudes weren't flying around on jetpacks and whole floors weren't spontaneously bursting into flames. Situational awareness and having a lay of the floors above and below you are critical to gameplay, so everything is pulled out to give the player a better sense of what's going on. Because of this, character sprites are fairly small, yet they animate so smoothly that that they aren't lacking in character. It's a great looking game not just in the arcade, but on the Saturn as well.
You can also unlock the original Elevator Action (or just unlock it with an Action Replay if you're like me), which creates a perfect linear comparison between the two games. It's kind of great how this goofy, rudimentary little shooter evolved into a pastiche of 80s and 90s action films and anime. Different eras of hardware and media no doubt influenced the design of each game, but to see them side-by-side is novel and a bit funny.
Thankfully, Elevator Action Returns: S-Tribute makes this game more accessible today than it has been, so there's no real need to dive into emulation unless you really want to save 12 bucks. I couldn't tell you with any first-hand authority if it's a good port, but Elevator Action Returns is such a fun game and a strong recommendation that I think you should get at it by any means.