The Summer Of SHOOTERS Part 5 (1993-1995)
Developed by: Farsight Technologies
Action 52 is literally a piece of shit. What, you expect me to review this? Just watch the video, this game is an absolute sin against gaming. I'm only including it as a joke, and because sometimes, certain games DO need to be kicked in the balls 15 years later just for the hell of it. No sock for you!
Arcade Title: A.L.C.O.N.
Developed by: Toaplan
Released: June 11th 1993
No, I don't know why this game is called Slap Fight. Yes, it's actually called that. No, there is no slapping in the game.
This is a port of an older arcade game, so it definitely has an 80s feel to it. Even in the 1993 mindset, this game feels retro. But that certianly doesn't mean it isn't any good, infact, I'd say this is one of Toaplan's better offerings. Like pretty much all of their games though, 1 hit and you die, and the game is brutally hard at points. What sets it apart a bit though, is shamelessly ripping off a very Gradius-like powerup system. Collecting stars will move the power bar along, press a button to purchase what you want, and do it all over again.
A major flaw though, is that the powerups just aren't as good as Gradius. There are four forward attacks, none of which will combine with another. You've got basic forward shots, a short range bomb, homing missiles, and a laser. The most expensive powerup is a shield, which will actually protect you from dying in one hit, something almost never seen in a Toaplan game. A big annoyance though is that they decided to have the shield powerup actually make noise, instead of just flashing, your ship will also beep, the slower it goes, the less shield you have left.
Instead of options though, this game also has one of the most poorly conceived powerups in a shooter ever, the wing upgrade. The wing upgrade, adds wings to your ship to supplement your firepower. This is good. It also makes your ship bigger. This is bad, really really bad. The game is one where attacks don't come at you fast, but they come at you in huge numbers, mostly aimed directly at you. You've got very little space to navigate between streams, and having a larger ship is just about the worst thing you could possible have.
A big plus to this game though, is that there are two games in it. Along with the original arcade title, you also have Slap Fight MD, a Megadrive original game. The graphics are a bit better, the music is a LOT better, and the powerups have been altered a bit. The biggest change to them improves the wing upgrade, giving it two new changes. The is that the initial wing upgrade doesn't make your ship much bigger at all, so it's not such a suicidal powerup anymore, but wings after that are the same and seem pointless. You can also however discard your wing upgrades to make your ship smaller, and release a powerup explosion at the same time. Slap Fight MD feels a lot more balanced that it's arcade brother, so it's a very welcome addition.
Developed by: Aprinet
Released: June 25th 1993
Another great game that was Japan only! Eliminate Down is a very simple game. No story at all, a very simple powerup system, and just a nearly never ending amount of enemies and bosses to blast through. You've got three primary weapons, a forward spread, missiles that diagonally, and a rear shooting beam attack. You've got all three of these at any time and can switch freely. Collecting powerup icons will slowly powerup all three attacks at once. And that's it. For some reason, I didn't really like the powerup system. The missiles felt useless, the rear beam is extremely situational, so I was using the spread nearly the entire game. There's no real choice in what to use, just simply collect the powerups the entire game.
The music didn't sit right with me either, the first few stages tunes are pretty bland, but it does get better after that. I'm not really sure if the music is actually bad, or if I'm just sick of the "Genesis sound" of everything. Sound effects are good and actually sound like explosions, but are very repetitive as well.
Now it seem may like I'm being harsh on the game, but I'm also done with my actual complaints on it. Besides the powerups being a bit bland, and the music kind of sucking, this game is damn awesome. The graphics are amazing, and manage to be very uncluttered so it's easy to see attacks, while being detailed at the same time. There are a lot of rotation effects used as well, similar to Sol-Feace, but they look much more natural and smooth here. Bosses in particular are huge and very impressive looking. Each of the eight stages not only has a major boss, but a midboss as well, and a lot of these are nearly as impressive in design and attacks than the actual stage bosses. The stages are fairly varied while all having a sci-fi theme, you've got the usual outer space stages, mechanical bases, and organic stages. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's pulled off nicely.
But in the end, something felt missing. I don't even know what it is, but something didn't quite click 100% with me, so I can't give this game a perfect score. It's a great game, but I didn't have that urge to play it again right away like I did the other 4 sock games so far. Of course, I shouldn't be apologizing so much for giving a game a "close to perfect" score should I?
Lords of Thunder
Platform: Sega CD
Developed by: Red / Hudson
Released: June 25th 1993
Lords of Thunder is a pretty rockin game. I was a bit surprised it wasn't made by Technosoft, because it reminded me of a mix of Thunder Force III and Elemental Master, but the combination ended up being better than both. Just like those games, you can pick one of several stages at the start, allowing you to play the game in nearly any order, as only the seventh stage and final boss are off limits. You play as a guy with a huge suit of armor, who has both magical abilities, as well as a sword to hack stuff with. You can pick one of four suits of armor at the start of each stage, each one named after an element. The fire and wind suits are your standard "everything to your right is going to die" style attacks, water will attack left and right, but doesn't do as much damage, and finally earth resembles missiles from other games, the main attacks arc diagonally up and down then explode. Each suit has three power levels, the higher your magic bar gets, the more insane and devestating your attacks get.
The stages are quite varied, all being colorful, diverse, and never staying the same for very long. Each stage has around three different primary backgrounds, as soon as you get used to being in one location, it'll change to something else entirely. It's nice that the game makes sure never to be boring, but it also goes a bit overboard, and everything feels too short lived. The bosses of each area are large, full of motion, and each have a simple to figure out, but hard to perfectly dodge attack pattern. They do tend to die a bit fast though, especially when hit with a bomb attack.
After each stage, you visit a shop and can use all the jewels you've collected to buy items. Although it's a nice touch, it doesn't have the depth that Forgotten Worlds' shop did where you had to really plan each purchase. Pretty much every visit to this shop I had was basically fill up my lifebar, fill my magic bar, buy bombs, then use any leftover money to get niceties like extra lives or continues, neither of which I ever ended up needing. Since I was playing on normal, when normal is the lowest of three difficulty settings, the game was very easy. Only a few bosses really posed any sort of threat, and the final bosses were surprisingly easy.
Since this is a Sega CD game, it has CD music, but no game used the media quite like this, as the entire soundtrack to this game is entirely heavy metal tunes. Some will love it, some will hate it, but at the very least, it certainly is unique and refreshing compared to so many other shooters. It's only flaw is that it gets a bit lost underneath the loud sound effects.
While many consider the Sega CD version inferior to it's Turbo-Duo brother, it seems like a pointless comparison, as this version is already nearly perfect.
Platform: Sega CD
Developed by: Game Arts
Released: July 30th 1993
It's now the middle of 1993. Genesis has been around a while, even Sega CD is approaching two years old. We've seen a lot of shooters up until now, good and bad. Then we reach a little game called Silpheed. Given the shell shock of "holy crap this looks amazing" that I'm experiencing now, I can only imagine how blown away people must've been by this game back then. Silpheed is true real pioneer in shoot em ups, finally tapping into the unrealize potential of shoot em ups actually being about battles between huge armadas of ships, your ship twisting and turning through the scenery, all while the gameplay itself remains 2D.
Silpheed is actually designed around a bit of trickery of course. The game isn't actually really 3D. The backgrounds, while impressive, are actually just prerecorded video that plays along with the stage. However your ship, and the enemies, are made 3D polygons, and match the video nicely, even getting smaller as you move towards the top of the screen, making them look farther away. The background is also a very active participant in trying to kill you, asteroids, platforms, giant laser beams, anything in the background that seems a bit too close for comfort probably is, and can hurt you. Although the background attacks can be memorized with enough play, you've still got all the enemies and their attacks to deal with, so don't be expecting this to be an easy ride.
Infact, Silpheed is a very hard game, brutally so. Everything is very fast, enemies like to come up right to the bottom of the screen and simply try to ram you. The background can be distracting in seeing enemy attacks, but usually I kept feeling I got hit by attacks that were too fast, rather than impossible to see. Instead of several ships, you've got a lifebar in Silpheed, which can take a lot of hits. Once your lifebar is out you can take a few final hits, but these will do things like damage your weapons, engine, then finally kill you off. It is nice that they give you one last shot at survival though. There are a decent amount of shield powerups littered among the stages, but being too impatient for these as they slowly come down the screen can often trap you into taking even more damage.
The weapon system is Silpheed is interesting. You have two primary guns, left and right, that both fire at the same time. You can pick one of four guns for each of them (you don't start with all four guns though) so you can mix and match odd combos like a straight forward right gun, and a spread shot from the left gun. The guns aren't terribly varied though, two of them, V and Phalax, kind of do the same thing. The fourth gun is auto aim though, which is always a fun overpowered option. In addition to being able to pick your gun between stages, you can also pick your bomb, again from one of four. These aren't the normal kill everything in sight attacks though, but rather unimpressive effects like small explosions or additional defense for your ship.
I always kind of regret that the shooter genre died right as games like this became possible. No game, even looking at the 32 and 64 bit eras, really captures the intensity of battle that this game does. There are even hardly any other 3D background shooters in the same style, besides a few like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. To me, Silpheed represents the first game in the final stage in shoot em ups, and it's a shame really. Nostalgia biased score go!
American Title: Android Assault: The Revenge of Bari-Arm
Platform: Sega CD
Developed by: Human Entertainment
Released: July 30th 1993
I think this one has to win for most pointless name change. The Japanese name is Bari-Arm, I don't see anything wrong with it, but the American version got renamed to the fairly cheesy Android Assault anyways. But then, they added the subtitle "The Revenge of Bari-Arm" to it anyways. Why? Because they didn't actually change the in-game title screen which of course, reads Bari-Arm. So if you're gunna change the name of a game, at least freaking change it, not do a weird half assed version.
Anyways, the game is full of highs and lows, and a lot of inbalance. You've got several different weapons, a general spread shot, exploding missiles, homing missiles, and lasers. Collecting seperate powerup capsules will powerup your ship overall, along with bringing your weapon to the next level. If you reach the top level, your ship will transform into a giant robot, and if you get hit in this form, you'll go down one power level and back to being a spaceship. While at first this seemed like a fairly neat system to me, it shows pretty big flaws later on in the game. If you can manage to get to the robot form, you're damn well off, as you won't die in one hit, and if you do, you're able to grab another powerup to regain robot form. I was able to reach level 5 with only one death this way, despite getting hit several times. The game was getting kind of boring becaue of how easy it was.
Then I reached the fifth level, and things changed. Not hard right off the bat, I was impressed by a very quick speeder section that did cost me a life. But the real horror was the boss, who completely had his way with me, taking away nearly all the extra lives I'd accumulated up to that point. I noticed that each time you die, your power level goes down more and more, and soon was trying to fight a boss with a level 1 crap weapon. Stage 6 didn't treat me much better, being almost entirely a series of short boss fights with very few powerups in sight. It seemed at this point of the game regaining the robot form was a lost cause, as I was too busy dying to get a streak long enough to max my power out, a situation where every powerup would become a free life. Kind of ironic, don't you think.
The final stage is a city that visually doesn't look or feel like a final stage, followed by a random giant alien just off the shoreline, then the game is over. And I mean over, because that alien will kick your ass repeatedly and violently. The ending sucks anyways, so it's not really worth going crazy trying to get past him.
Even though the graphics in this game are great, and the weapons and powerups show a lot of potential, it seemed to sidestep actually being FUN. Not that it's horrble by any means, but in my opinion, it's the weakest Sega CD shooter so far.
American Title: Keio Flying Squadron
Platform: Sega CD
Developed by: Victor
Released: August 6th 1993
Keio is a pretty bizarre game, to say the lease. The opening cinema starts with a Japanese history lesson, then suddenly shifts to the story of a small clan who spends their lives protecting an ancient treasure, which is a giant key. Of course 30 seconds later it gets stolen, and it's up to Rami to get it back, while riding on her pet dragon and wearing a bunny outfit, for no reason at all.
The powerups here have a pretty neat system. There are two primary icons, one alternates between a forward shot and a 3 way shot, and the other alternates between three sub weapons, a air to ground bomb, shurikens, and a homing dragon. Collecting the same powerups multiple times will powerup each weapon further. You also create baby dragons to follow you around as options, by simply not shooting for a few seconds. These can also be sacrificed into a powerup attack, but don't worry, you can always make more!
The game scrolls at a fairly leisurely pace, which is a bit deceiving, because to my surprise, this game is actually really hard. 1 hit kills you dead, and leaves you very vulnerable to another quick death as you scramble for powerups, or try to not shoot to regain your options. Not helping is that the stages tend to drag on very long, if you lose all your lives, most of the time you're sent all the way back to the start, which is quite painful.
Overall while this game has a lot of charm, crazy characters, terrible voice acting (which makes is 10 times funnier), and a wide variety of weird enemies to shoot down, to me it just kind of missed the mark, and didn't do much to distinguish itself as slightly above average at best. It has it's humorous moments though, so it's worth checking out at least once, on easy.
Battle Mania Daiginjou
AKA: Trouble Shooter Vintage
Released: December 24th, 1993
The sequel to Battle Mania, this one never came to America. Luckily, it has been translated by M.I.J.E.T., so I was quick to pick that up before playing it, since I enjoyed the quirky storyline of the first one so much. This game is even more off the wall than it's predecessor, as you fly across several stages battling against bosses such as a basketball playing robot, a claw vending machine, and an alien who wears a helmet bigger than his body. Oh yeah, this one is out there.
One important thing before playing this though, be sure to go into the option menu and enable 8 way aiming. For some reason the game defaults to the same controls as the original, with Mania/Madison always aiming to the right side of the screen. 8 way changes that though, allow you to aim in all directions, and lock your aim by holding down fire. It's tricky get used to at first, but the benefits seem to far outweight any learning curve, as you'll no longer have to rely on your partner to hit behind you.
Besides the control changes, the game pretty much plays like an extension of the original. If you didn't like that one, I doubt this one will do much to change your opinion. The graphics are better, and the four bombs better balanced, but those are again fairly minor changes. One thing I did notice in this one though, is that the stage bosses all seem to have two or three forms each. Normally this would get annoying, but they don't outlive their welcome either, so each fight is quick, to the point, and diverse.
It's better than the first one, but not by a huge margin. Play that one first for the storyline, and if you like it, be glad there's a whole nother game waiting for you afterwards.
Arcade Title: V-Five
American Title: Grind Stormer
Developed by: Toaplan
Released: March 25th 1994
For this review, I'd like to do something a little different, and bring out a guest reviewer! Straight from the set of the hit anime Code Geass, it's VV!
Thank you, thank you, it's good to be here!
Like usual I first head to the options menu, and notice that like Slap Fight, there are two seperate game modes, Grind Stormer and V-Five, they seem to be the same game though, so I'm unsure which one to pick.
Ok, we'll go with that one then! Right away I notice that the game again blatantly steals from Gradius with it's...
Err, I mean, this game expands on the powerup system Slap Fight. Powerups are more requent, the default gun is actually really good, another tilt to aim gun, pressing all the guns together and you'll create a powerful stream of energy.
Indeed it is! Other weapons include a homing shot, and missiles. You can also buy overall weapon power-ups, speed increases, and of course a shield. The shield will block two small hits, but beware as larger attacks will still slice through you like butter.
Well, let's not be so hasty, this game still has a lot of problems. While the music is merely just "really bad", the sound effects are a whole new level of ear destruction. This game tops Forgotten Worlds in the worst gun sounds catagory by far, both the default gun and the homing gun will drown out the music completely with how loud and clangy they are.
What a wimp you are, just play the game on mute!
Honestly, I wish I had! While the graphics here are pretty good, enemies are large and well defined, they could be a bit better, and in the mess of attacks, it can be easy to lose track of all the bullets headed your way and you'll get hit out of nowhere.
I hate when that happens.
There is also a lot of slowdown in this game, and while it was almost welcome at first to help me get through harder moments, it became tedious and annoying pretty fast.
But it helps you dodge!
I guess. In the end, VV is just another Toaplan game that follows their established formula with very little divergence. It's brutally hard, with 1 hit kills at every corner, but can be pretty good if you manage to overcome it's difficulty.
This is clearly the best Toaplan game though, why else would they name it after me. I don't do crappy endorsements!
Since I'm done with the game, might as well check out the alternate mode, Grind Stormer.
I see no reason to do that.
Wow, this is interesting. Gone is the Slap Fight-ish power up system, replaced with a more traditional system where powerups appear from dead enemies, and give you the ability written on them. In fact, this seems like it would've made the game a lot easier. You bastard, I should've played this mode first!
Heh, heh, heh.
Developed by: Sales Curve
Hey there, Mega SWIV. It's me, 1990. Where were you? We were all having fun that year, experimenting with the new Genesis hardware, but you were nowhere to be seen! You're a bit late to the party now, showing up four years later. Mega SWIV isn't a terrible game, but it feels really dated at this point. Had this been a game much earlier on the list, perhaps I would've forgiven it a bit more. But as it is, it's just standard shooter that doesn't do anything noticably wrong, it doesn't do anything really well either.
The only unique thing about the game is that you can choose to play as a helicopter or a cute little tank. The tank can aim in multiple directions, but since pretty much everything attacks from the top, this seemed like a pointless ability, so I went with the helicopter.
You've got three guns to start with, bullets, plasma orbs, and a flamethrower, which seems to do less damage than the others, despite having a shorter range. Along the way you may find other weapons, but for the most part everything attacks almost exacly the same, straight up.
Overall, Mega SWIV is pretty mediocre, but it's at least playable, which is sadly more than I've been able to say for a lot of other games. The music is bad, the stages a bit too long, and the boss fights range from dull, to short, to hellish. This isn't really what I expected from the last generation of Genesis games, a regression right back to the start.
Developed by: Nexus Interact
Viewpoint has a unique, uhh... viewpoint for the game. Instead of being top down or side scrolling like every other game, this one takes a 3/4th view. While unique, it doesn't really work all that well, it can be hard and annoying to judge exactly which way to press to dodge attacks. The ship being able to scroll the stage up and down, and even slow it down doesn't help the awkward dodging of bullets. The games main selling point, ends up being one of it's biggest flaws.
But not the biggest, the real problem here is that EVERYTHING causes the game to slowdown. This is possible the most slowdown riddled game ever, the only time it seems to be going full speed is when it's just you on the screen. Any time enemies, bullets, floor obstacles, or bosses appear, get ready for the game to slow way down. It's extremely frustrating to play.
While the game started ok, it seemed to get worse and worse, and more annoying as I went on. Then I reached stage 5, which is quite possible, the single worst stage in any game so far. After a little bit of actual stage, a large foe stood before me:
The stage one boss.
"Oh christ, not another boss marathon, didn't that shit go out of style in 1991?" I muttered. Not only does stage 5 force you to fight the first four bosses all over again, (this game has long boss fights too) it throws a fifth new boss at you at the end, as well as stage segments between each boss. Combine this all with 1 hit kills that send you back to a checkpoint, awkward hit detection because of the viewpoint, and agonizing and nearly non stop slowdown, it's like a checklist of everything I hate in shooters. Look anywhere else before playing this game.
The Earth Defend
Developed by: Realtec
What a way to end it. The final Genesis shoot em up, is another unlicensed piece of crap. This game reminds me a lot of Magic Girl, they're both unlicensed, the music is similar, and the developers have similar names (Gamtec and Realtec) But while Magic Girl was at least a little good, this game is just a pile of crap.
I was surprised to notice that the game actually supports two players at the same time. In the middle of stage 1, I was so bored that I pressed start on the second controller, just to let the player two ship sit around. A few deaths later, and player 2 had a game over, and I went on my way. Or at least I would have, if the game didn't freeze up after beating the first boss. My ship scrolled off the screen, but the game didn't do anything. I'll assume the game was trying to wait for player 2 to also leave the screen, but couldnt since it was ya know, dead.
The bosses in this game are a total joke anyways though, because of the "bomb" attack the player has, which makes you invincible for several seconds. While most games have you firing at a set speed, this one has you fire as soon as your bullets leave the screen. The farther up you sit, the faster you'll shoot. This has a huge obvious flaw when combined with the invincible bomb, you can just sit ontop of bosses and fire nearly every frame into them, killing them quite quickly.
Except for the last boss, who did not seem to take any damage whatsoever, and after going through several lives worth of bombs, I had to give up because I'm pretty sure he's just invincible. Awesome ending guys!
Oh and there is a fuckton of slowdown in this game too.
American Title: Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000
European Title: Motherbase
Developed by: CSK Research Institute Corp
Released: July 14th 1995
The final game in my summer of shooters, also happens to be the first and only 32X shooter. This is an odd game in a lot of areas, I guess the best way to describe it would be a lot of good ideas, ruined by bad execution. In Gaiares you could steal enemy weapons, I later compared it to Zero Wing where you could take enemy ships, and throw them at each other. But the real successor to Gaires' playstyle would actually be this game, where you can actually take full control of enemy ships. Your default ship is a dinky little craft that will die in one hit, but it can do one thing no other ship up to this point has been able to do: It can jump! Jumping onto most enemy ships will take them over, allowing you to use their weapons, and usually take several hits of damage. When damaged beyond repair, your display will flash red, at which point you have about two seconds to jump off before your ride explodes, killing you with it. The number of enemies you can take over is numerous, some of them with some really interesting attacks, my favorite being the drill robot who takes out foes up close.
However, there are a lot of flaws in this game. The most annoying is that there doesn't seem to be any consistency in which enemies you can take over. This is pretty deadly combined with the method of jumping onto them to capture. If you're wrong, that's it, you die instantly. I had thought early on that capturable enemies all had neon green polygons in them, but that didn't seem to hold through the entire game. The cheap deaths are pretty bad given that this is a 1 hit kill, back to the checkpoint style game.
Another big flaw is that the game doesn't run very smoothly. Like Silpheed, this game uses polygons for enemies, but the models here are larger and more complicated, and while pretty good for a system not really intended to do this sort of thing, it doesn't run that well. Everything just feels far too slow overall, a combination of the low framerate, bits of slowdown, and that nearly every ship in the game just seems to move really slowly.
Next is that, for a shooter, your weapons all pretty much suck. I'm not sure how much this ties into the slowdown issues, but it really starts to get annoying when nearly every ship in the entire game can only fire three bullets on screen at once, give me a weapon that will really tear it up dammit!
A lot of games have been 1 hit kill, back to checkpoint style, and in general I've berated all of them for it, but this one seems to be among the most frustrating of all. This is because of the three major boss fights, in stages 3, 6, and 9. Each of these bosses has more than one form, and the fights are really long. Screw up once, and you'll go back to the last checkpoint, which is always placed about a minute before the boss. And it's easy to screw up when your ship moves so damn slow at times, the easiest of attacks can hit you if you cant move out of the way quick enough.
Overall though, I kind of like this game. It's unique, but it isn't really playable as an actual game, it's simply too difficult and unbalanced. To me feels like a technical demo of what could have been possible. The enemy hijacking system is awesome, the music is good, and the stages are fairly diverse, besides a few generic outer space areas. It might be worth a look as an oddity, just not as a serious shoot em up experience.