The Summer Of SHOOTERS Part 2 (1989-1990)
by Rhete

XDR: X-Dazedly-Ray

Japan Only
Developed by: Unipacc
Released: August 26th 1990
Difficulty: High


"Wow, this is shitty"

The first words right out of my mouth when I started the ill-fated XDR. There is pretty much nothing good about this game. The graphics are bad, the levels are generic, the music is downright horrible, enemies are annoying, and the bosses are simple and repetitive "fire a big laser straight to the left" fodder. Every stage follows the exact same pattern, scroll through an infinitely repeating background for a while, then it starts moving super fast and a boss appears.

What completely kills this game though, is that you die in one hit, and get sent back to a checkpoint every time. Combine that harshness with some terrible hit detection, and you'll probably be frustrated right from stage 1 as bullets appear from nowhere suddenly, or enemies follow you around the screen kamikaze style. Your only hope is to get a shield which protects you from about 4 hits (sometimes, they seem glitchy) but I only found two of those the entire game.

Despite that this game was only released in Japan, it's in english, sort of. This is what you get for completing this monstrosity:



Overall while games like Curse or Twin Hawk were simply lousy enough to fall into the "I really can't recommend this" category, XDR pioneers a new "Seriously, I advise you NOT to play this if you know whats good for you" ranking. Of course saying stuff like that online just makes more people want to play the game, so don't say you haven't been warned.





Insector X

Developed by: Taito
Released: September 7th 1990
Difficulty: Medium


Another game with no spaceships! This time you take control of some robotic flying bug thing, and fight against tons of other enemy bugs. Although this game starts off slow, it quickly picks up and becomes one of the more hectic shooters thus far. There are only 5 stages, but each of them (except stage 2) has two or more segments where you fly indoors into a totally different environment, splitting each stage up nicely and reducing the repetition. The graphics are colorful and everything looks nice and sharp all around.

Your main weapon starts out as a single dinky little shot, and slowly upgrades into a huge spread of death that hits nearly the entire screen. You also have two sub weapons, one of which seems to be random projectiles that generally move forward, and the other is a downward bomb shot for ground enemies. Oddly, despite how long it can take to upgrade your weapons, this is a 1 hit and you're dead and back to the last checkpoint game, with all of your upgrades gone. But there is a ? item you can collect that will let you keep your weapons on death, but those are rare.

Due to the strict death penalty, I was wondering if this game would suffer from Gradius syndrome where one death would screw up your entire game. To my surprise, it doesn't. The enemies are actually designed to get stronger as your beam increases in power. Initially their shots are slow, and as you get stronger, they go faster, then once you get a full wave shot enemies begining shooting at you as they die as well, shots which increase in speed as well once you max your power. This clever scaling difficulty definitely helps those who keep dying, while providing insane action for those who can handle it.

The weakest part of the game is the bosses, who while they look cool, have very basic patterns and don't match the difficulty of the rest of the game. Even though they're easy, they have a lot of life and take a bit too long to kill.

One last thing of note, this is a port of an arcade shooter, but I guess since Genesis was the cool and edgy system at the time, all of the characters and bosses were redrawn from their original cutesy style to a more mature and robotic style. Honestly, I don't mind this change one bit.







Hellfire

Developed by: Toaplan
Released: September 28th 1990
Difficulty: Low


I've never had my opinion of a game fall so fast as this one. The first stage showed a lot of promise, decent graphics, good controls, unique weapon system, everything was in place and it looked like this had the potential to be a 3 sock game. But while most shooters start off very slow to let you get a feel for the game, by the second stage I realized that Hellfire is a game that simply never gets off the ground.

But first I should mention the only good thing about the game, it's weapon system. Sort of an even more streamlined version of Thunder Force III's, pressing B lets you switch between forward, rear, up/down, and diagonal shots, but you always have these guns with no powerups required. Much of the game is designed to exploit your ability to shoot in any direction.

However in the end, this game fails because it is freaking boring as hell. Almost every single stage plays out exactly the same. A few enemy patterns, followed by then the exact same enemy pattern repeated but a bit faster. Then again, then again. Then finally the game moves to a new segment, but not without a long dead spot with nothing happening for 10 seconds in between. The level design is just so boring, I found myself either not doing anything, or repeating the same enemy patterns over and over for entire stages. The final stage is one of the worst offenders, with large mini boss style ships appearing multiple times in a row. One huge green ship appears four times in a row!

In addition to the repetitive enemies, bosses are almost indistinguishable from minibosses since they don't even have their own music. Many times I would finish off a miniboss expecting the stage to end, or a boss expecting the stage to continue. Hell, the boss of stage 5 is so bad, I thought it was a regular enemy!

After all this, the games ending gives you one last surprise, before booting you back to Stage 1.



Replay the entire game for another ending? How about this: FUCK. YOU.

Hellfire was a weird game to score. On one hand, it is pretty decent in a lot of areas and plays nicely, and the weapons are a nice twist. On the other hand, it's simply not fun at all, and I think that takes priority.





Same! Same! Same!

American Name:Fire Shark
Developed by: Toaplan
Released: November 2nd 1990
Difficulty: Medium


Only about half a year since Toaplan's previous WWII shooter Daisenpuu, (and hell, barely a month after Hellfire) they're back at it again with the game... ok both titles for this game are terrible, so I'm going to call it Fire Shark. Anyways, this game fixes a ton of the problems with the previous two games, namely its very faced paced right from the start, and the action never lets up for the games 10 stages. While Daisenpuu was full of tanks and not much else, Fire Shark mixes up the enemies by adding in planes and a lot more larger enemies that in real life wouldn't have a chance at being able to actually fly.

Oddly despite this being a realistic shooter, your weapons are anything but. The spread shot you start with is fine enough, but you can also get wavey green lasers (that look like they're taken from Battle Squadron) and a massive laser that starts small, but when powered up will sweep around the screen killing everything in its path. It really seems like a weapon more suited to Truxton than this game.

While the graphics aren't the best, the action never lets up so you shouldn't have time to look at the ground too much anyways. Overall this is a simple game that sort of represents a perfected version of an oldschool shoot em up. It's worth a look, but don't expect anything new.





Elemental Master

Developed by: TechnoSoft
Released: December 14th 1990
US Release: 1993
Difficulty: Medium


While most shooters have you playing as some kind of flying object, be it spaceship, plane, insect, or guy with wings. Elemental Master throws this out, and creates a shooter where you play as a guy running along the ground. While the running animation is something you may laugh at, the gameplay here certainly isn't. There are a lot of neat twists here as the game combines elements from adventure games into a shooter. Each of the initial four stages can be played in any order, and each one grants its own unique weapon upon completion. There are also a lot of elemental hazards in this game, rocks that divide the screen, wind that blows you around, and ice that your character will slip on to name a few.

The game seems hard at first though, as you start with a lifebar with 4 hits, but once you die, thats it. There are no extra lives in this game. You'll have to continue and start the entire stage over. Luckily, as you progress your maximum lifebar gets longer, and as you collect more weapons killing enemies becomes easier. All of the weapons also can be charged up to unleash a huge attack, this is the only way to even damage the last few bosses.

Like Thunder Force III, this game has large and impressive bosses, but also the same is their wildly inconsistent health bars. Some fights seem to drag on too long, while other bosses go down in as few as two well placed shots.

At the start of the game, and after a few stages there are animated cutscenes progressing the game's story, which while a nice touch. But don't take them too seriously, because the story in this game is pretty silly And it ends with your character crying, how unmanly is that!





Dangerous Seed

Japan Only
Developed by: Namco
Released: December 18th 1990
Difficulty: High


What a crappy game. Hey, let's have stage 8 be a boss marathon stage, then just when the player kills the boss called "Danger Seed" at the end of it, have them fly INSIDE it only discover there are FOUR MORE STAGES of repeated bosses waiting for them!

The only good thing about this is that the music is good, possibly my favorite so far, too bad it's stuck in a shitty game. At least there's a sound test!





Arrow Flash

Developed by: Renovation
Released: December 20th 1990
Difficulty: Medium


Had this game come out a bit earlier, I might have liked it more. But as it is, it stands as a mediocre game in a very crowded time period, with no real distinguishing features to make it stand out above the crowd. You can change between a space ship and a cute little mech, but there is almost no reason to change much as the mech is better. Your bomb attack is the titular Arrow Flash, your ship becomes invincibe and can damage enemies with its body, taking out a lot of early bosses with ease.

Arrow Flash is odd because while some stages are a total snore fest, some are quite interesting and inspired. However, it feels like the bad stages outweigh the good ones, and are longer to boot. Overall it's not a horrible game, but it's certainly not the best either.





Darius II

American Name: Sagaia
Developed by: Taito
Released: December 20th 1990
Difficulty: Medium


If you haven't heard of the Darius series, then damn, why are you reading this? If you haven't heard of Sagaia though, that's ok, because it's the seemingly random name given to Darius II when it came out in America. Why they do this stuff I don't know, because it's not like Darius was unknown in America. At least it's not as bad as the SNES Darius Force being renamed Super Nova in the US a few years later.

Anyways, the story of this game is your dudes are descendents of planet Darius who now live on planet Orga. You receive a distress signal from other descendents of Darius and go to save them. This is all fine and good except for two things. First off is that all of the bosses in this game are for some reason all based on aquatic lifeforms, a Darius tradition. Secondly, is that when you get to the map screen, you suddenly see that all of the game actually takes place in our solar system.



This little fact is not mentioned in any of the games five endings. Yeah, that's right, this game has five endings. And if you noticed, theres also a map screen, with TWENTY SIX stages. This is where Darius II really shines compared to other the other games so far. While most shooters tend to be very short experiences, going through through around 6 to 8 stages in a row, Darius II has a ton of replay value by letting you pick the stage you want to go to to, eventually leading towards five different final stages.

However, Darius' promise of variety also can be seen to be it's biggest weakness. While the stages are all different, each planetary grouping shares the same music and mid-boss, and towards the start, the same end bosses as well. It opens up a towards the end though, with Earth and Mars having two different stage bosses, and the final stages having 4 different final bosses. Even with the repeated elements though, it goes a long way towards extending the games play length, just getting every ending will take you quite a while.

Darius is also notable for one other thing besides fish bosses and level select, and that's how it takes you damn near forever to reach maximum power. Each power orb increases your power a tiny bit, and shields take multiple powerups to each each new level. The end result is that if you can manage to not die until the end of the game, damn do you feel powerful, with your ship shooting all directions, 4 way missiles, and a golden shield. It's probably the most satisfying power up system because it takes you the entire game to max out. But, if you die, it quickly becomes a huge pain trying to regain your foothold, especially since you die in one hit normally, but shields can take around 5-7 hits, a huge gap in a game like this. The game is kind enough to sometimes give you a super shot powerup when you die or continue, but with no shield, it's sometimes not enough.

Overall Darius II is a great game, with a ton of replay value thanks to the huge number of stages. It can be a bit hard at times, but it's easy as long as you don't die!





Musha Alesta

American Name: M.U.S.H.A.
Developed by: Compile
Released: December 21st 1990
Difficulty: Medium


Last month when looking up information on Genesis shooters in preparation for my review spree, I tried to stay away from actual reviews that might bias me towards certain games. I wanted to go into each one knowing as little as possible and form my own opinion on if it was good or not. But there was one game that kept getting mentioned. Not just as a shoot em up on Genesis, not just as one of the best shooters on Genesis, but as one of the best shoot em ups ever. It continually come up on nearly every single persons "favorite shooters" list, even IGNs. Pretty good for a game I hadn't even heard of until a few weeks ago. Could it match these lofty expectations I now had for it?

Thankfully, it did. Musha is possibly the most adreneline pumped shooter ever, it's pure action from start to finish with a loud rocking soundtrack (at least for the Genesis) to boot. The sound effects are a bit weird, but that's a minor complaint. Musha is like a breed of shooter that simply didn't exist back in the 16 bit days, its constant action, enemies, and bullets makes it feel a lot more like modern bullet hell shooters. I almost can't figure out how they pulled this off on Genesis with virtually no slowdown.

The weapons in Musha are a bit of overkill as well, smashing pretty much everything from all the previous games together. First you have your main beam, which starts out dinky, and becomes pretty impressive as you collect the various power containers. Next you have up to two options, which can be positioned around ship in a ton of different ways, straight ahead, aiming diagonally for a 3 way beam, shooting behind you, spinning around your ship, aiming the opposite way you move, and even locking on and chasing enemies around the screen themselves. However, the options dont have a lot of firepowr on their own, so these configurations seems a tad useless overall. But that's not all, you also have a more standard weapon upgrade system, three different elemental shots that can be upgraded multiple times by collecting the same powerup in a row. You've got a big lightning bolt, missiles, and a rotating shield that will take out most small bullets or enemies getting a bit too close to you.

However, with all these powerups comes Musha's biggest flaw. You are totally fucked if you die. Worse than Gradius, worse than Darius, in this you may as well just spend the rest of your lives and use a continue to restart the stage where you'll have a better chance at being able to get some action going again. Musha restarts you right where you were when you die, but with a game as nonstop action packed at this, it's almost cruel to send you back into the melee with just the dinky starting gun and nothing else.

In the end, it's hard to actually do this game justice with just words. Even a video doesnt quite capture the game, as it's so fast, the lower framerate makes it look a lot choppier and messier than it really is. Musha is one of best game graphically so far, has great music, and it loaded with non-stop action. It lives up to all the hype.





Heavy Unit

Japan Only
Developed by: Toho
Released: December 26th 1990
Difficulty: Medium


Another generic shooter that fails to do anything that really impresses. Well, besides having another boss recap stage, despite that the game is only 5 stages long!

The enemies are large and detailed, the graphics are actually pretty good, but the huge bosses become a joke when the first few go down even faster than Thunder Force III's. Your character switches between a spaceship and huge mecha with a tiny hitbox, but unlike Arrow Flash, find the spaceship far better for its spreadgun and hitbox that makes sense.

The first few stages are good, but then it totally falls apart at the end.





Gaiares

Developed by: Telenet
Released: December 26th 1990
Difficulty: Very High


At the very start of this page I mentioned when starting this project, I tried to think back and remember Genesis shoot em ups, only one actually came to mind. It was this game, Gaiares. Although I have since stumbled upon other games I remembered, none of them got the time invested, and or cherished childhood nostalgia attachment that this one did. And that's why it was so hard to go back to it and finally realize that the game doesn't quite measure up to what I remembered.

Gaires is sort of a lot of ideas that while good in theory, never quite add up. The game's main attraction is that you can steal enemy weapons with your helper orb, called the TOZ. There are a lot of little problems with this though. First is that you completely stop attacking when you throw TOZ out, leaving yourself very vulnerable to getting overwhelmed by enemies. Next is that the weapons you steal usually start at level 1, and must be absorbed two more times to be used at their maxium power. Next is that you can only hold one weapon at a time, so why risk losing that good laser you have, by seeing what that new enemy has, when you'll probably end up with a level 1 crappy gun.

The final problem with the system is that there really don't see to be that many different weapons. While the overall number is probably comparable to other shooters, keep in mind that you're also always limited to what the enemies you're fighting are carrying. Most of the time you'll end up with one of two big forward lasers or the spread shot, while the other weapons like homing shots, 4 way shot, and circular orbs seem to be much rarer in comparison. A lot of weak enemies, and oddly enough, the massive stage bosses, simply have no weapon at all that you can take.

The first two stages of this game though, are brilliant, which is quite a good thing since most people never see anything else. The first stage starts with an awesome take off sequence, then after a short space skirmish you fly through an asteroid field, before speeding up and taking out a miniboss. You slow down, then have your choice of going above or below a large asteroid. The top leads to an almost earth-looking stage with blue sky and mountains, while going below forces you to dodge falling rocks. Both of these lead to a large cave, before you finally fight the stage boss. And that's just stage 1!

Stage 2 is equally as awesome, you enter Earth's atmosphere, then battle above the arctic, which as time passes becomes night time with beautiful aurora borealis in the background. Then you entire another large cavern, which at the end fills with water, making the screen sway back and forth with a cool graphical effect, then you fight a giant clam, which after enough damage cracks open to reveal the massive stage boss, a mermaid, inside.

All of this is awesome, except for one thing. Stage 2 is incredibly difficult. This is the first game to have me seriously pushed so early in a game. Gaires' difficluty spawns from many things. Most directly is that you die in one hit without a shield, and shields aren't exactly common. The next problem is that checkpoints are very infrequent, probably the farthest apart in any game I've played so far. There aren't even checkpoints before stage bosses, you'll have to replay the sequence before them which can be a few minutes, before getting another shot at them. The final problem is again tied to TOZ, upon death you start with the useless starting gun, and have to quickly try and grab something better from the enemies, putting yourself in danger by disabling your own attacks for a second. The end result is a game that while beautiful and captivating, is also annoying and repetitive as hell because you will be dying so much.

The next few stages aren't quite as awesome as the first two. Stage 3 brings you back to space, and does have some interesting parts like black holes trying to suck you in, and a giant out of place castle complete with swinging maces and guillotines. Stage 4 travels between wreckage, an indoor colony, and some kind of bug infested area. Stage 5 is the least impressive yet though, the entire stage just alternates between a lava area below you, and an ice area above you, until at the end both are onscreen shooting massive amounts of obstacles at you.

Unfortunately, the game takes a huge nosedive at stage 6, which is almost nothing more than a stage that repeats the minibosses of the previous five, with a new boss at the end. For a game that started out so amazing, it was pretty disappointing to reach a stage that felt so bland. Stage 7 though, topped this one, by merely reusing the previous six main stage bosses all in a row! Again the checkpoints here were nearly unbearable, from the start of the stage you have a brief enemy skirmish, then have to fight the stage 1 2 and 3 bosses all in a row, just to reach the first checkpoint. After beating the next 3 again, you come upon the core of the ship, which is surprisingly easy. To my surprise there was a stage 8, but not really as it only has two enemies, a core that goes down in 10 seconds, and the final boss, the leader of the villians, who happens to have her own TOZ now. She ended up being one of the easier bosses as well, though to be fair she's probably the best in the game as well. Overall Gaiares is so close to being an amazing game. The graphics are great, the music is catchy, the weapon system has a lot of potential, but to me, the difficulty, and huge reliance on cheap hits with checkpoints ages apart kills it for me. I guess I was a bit easier to impress when I was 9.








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