Mars Matrix
by sunburstbasser

Mars Matrix is a vertical shmup which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. You get some text during attract mode and at the end of the game.

Mars Matrix was the second game Takumi released on Capcom's CPS2 board and is heavily influenced by Giga Wing. You'll still be using a barrier to fling bullets back at enemies and grabbing medals for multipliers. Both the weapon and scoring systems have had some changes made to them which we'll get into. One big change is that you can hover right on top of enemies, only bullets can kill you.

Mars Matrix has four attacks, all mapped to a single button. Slow taps fire the Piercing Cannon. Faster taps fire your gun. Holding the button activates the Mosquito System, which works similar to the Reflect barrier of Giga Wing. Holding the button until your bar in the lower left is fully consumed acts as your bomb. The Mosquito System can only be used when the bar is full, and refills roughly half as fast as it drains. The only weapon that can be powered up is the regular gun, and it's power is tied directly to your multiplier.

All of the characters and funky airplanes of Giga Wing are gone, replaced with two Mosquito fighters and no pilots. This means all the B movie dialog is unfortunately also absent.


Mosquito 1 is orange. It moves slowly, but it's gun has a lot of spread.


Mosquito 2 is blue. It moves quickly, but the gun only fires forward.

The Piercing Laser, Mosquito System and bomb are identical between the two, and as such I'll describe those in a little detail since there isn't much to say about the fighters themselves.

The Piercing Laser fires a blast about the same width as your fighter and one half of the screen's height. It does a lot of damage, and can hit multiple times. With your weapons at default levels, the Piercing Laser becomes your primary means of killing enemies as the guns aren't very powerful at low levels. The Mosquito System captures bullets and rotates them around you. They won't be flung back until you release the button. They will shoot in the opposite direction that you move, so capture a bunch of bullets and move away from an enemy for a moment to hurl a bunch of bullets at them. The bomb clears the screen of enemies, and does good damage.

The scoring system is based on Giga Wing's medal system. Collect cubes to build up a multiplier. The values build up the same way. The difference lies in the chaining. In Mars Matrix, there is a short window after a cube is collected where the next cube will be worth a greater value. Each cube collected will extend that window. A bar in the upper left corner fills slightly with each cube collected and gives you a visual indication of the time left on that chain. In a way, Takumi took DoDonPachi's enemy chaining, and applied that to medal pickup. While the values of medals can revert back to base numbers, your combo itself won't go down. Like Giga Wing, this leads to some pretty big scores. The arcade version of Mars Matrix can actually be counter stopped, something that was fixed for the Dreamcast port.

At fixed intervals, you'll undergo a Level Up. This changes the appearance of your ship and upgrades your main shot. No other weapon can be powered up. An extend is awarded when the chain reaches 100,000. There are no standard powerups or upgrades in the game to be collected. Even with the appearance change, the hitbox will always be roughly the cockpit and does not alter in size.

Takumi used pre-rendered graphics for Mars Matrix instead of traditional pixel art. It all looks rather grainy and washed out. Neither your own ship nor the enemies look as solid as the sprites of Giga Wing. Yumekobo's games on the Neo Geo look a little better. Bullets are all quite easy to see.

The sound effects for the game are a step up from Giga Wing, with very deep, powerful explosions and lots of cool weapon sounds. The music consists of techno and electronic music without the distorted guitars of Giga Wing. This isn't bad on it's own, but the composition isn't on nearly the same level. The boss theme consists mostly of a repeated riff and doesn't have nearly the energy that Giga Wing had.

The rank system has been removed, but replaced with a very neat mechanism. In a few areas, killing an enemy or squadron quickly will generate more enemies, sometimes as cannon fodder for your Mosquito System.

This game is a space shooter, and the first thing you'll see in the first stage is a starfield background. Little popcorn enemies show up that are no threat at all since they can't even ram you. They are there to practice scoring. Most of the stage takes place on an asteroid or moon, a gray rocky landscape populated by things trying to kill you. It's also not very big, as on before the end of the level you've completely left it.

The boss is a large space bomber that is roughly the width of the screen. This boss has a few attacks, but most are pretty easy to dodge. If you don't kill the first form quickly, it starts shooting aimed lasers at you which are fairly deadly. It also has a bullet maze of thin blue lasers which can be a little tricky to navigate. The second phase is just rapid fire with an easy safe path. Fling a bunch of bullets back at it and build your combo meter up.

Stage 2 is where the game starts getting really serious. Mars Matrix has tons of aimed bullet spreads, which are really introduced here more than the first stage. The stage begins high over Mars, fighting bombers. When you've disposed of them you'll reach what I call the Martian Industrial Zone, with lots of structures that look like factories and tons of airplanes and tanks. Right before the boss, you'll be attacked by two rows of big airplanes that drop a lot of medals, and with practice you'll get the extend right here just before the boss.

The boss is a big tank, with both the main turret and some gun pods above each tread. This one doesn't have a lot of parts to take down, so just concentrate on that turret. The bullet patterns here are fast but have huge gaps in them. The boss knows this, and fires aimed bullet clouds in those gaps. Already you'll need to weave between some very close bullets, and this is only stage 2.

The third stage starts as a fly over of a beach and a canyon, with a huge scarab in the background. Since he flies off, you can bet money that he'll be back to kill you. Once the stage begins properly, you'll find a few roads and buildings below you, like an extraterrestrial city. Be aggressive and kill enemies quickly. Starting here, allowing enemies to live will put more bullets on screen than you can realistically deal with. At one point this stage has multiple enemies throwing out bullet arcs at various angles all over the screen, and if you don't kill the enemies they just keep shooting.

The boss is that giant scarab from earlier, fought over an actual city. The scarab is able to throw out a bunch of little mines at once, and your priority should be to dispose of those quickly and then attacking the boss. The Piercing Laser seems to work well on the mines. This boss has a bunch of attacks and is capable of trapping you in a corner, which happened to me multiple times due to the gatling cannons. Damage it the best you can, and fling a whole bunch of bullets at it to try and get the kill.

Stage 4 is Takumi's version of the Giant Battleship. A few big ones early on will accost you from either side, while normal enemies fire dozens of bullets at you. The mid boss is a big cube. Bullets emanate from each corner, but most seem to be unaimed and you can sit above the boss to get away from them. Killing the cube will reward you with an Extend.

The boss proper is a flying death machine that you take down piece by piece. The primary parts are the two engines, two turrets above them, a main turret on each wing, and two central emplacements. The most important is the forward central area. When destroyed, it will rain medals as long as it is on screen. The true boss pops out of the nose of this big ship, and when it unfolds it looks like a grappling hook. The bullet spreads it starts off with are pretty tricky, and the best method I found was to let the blast come out, and move horizontally to get between bullets.

The fifth stage is a fun one and has a feature that makes most of it a lot easier than the preceding stages. It starts off with these round walkers that have a very cool animation. They eventually get more deadly, but at the start of the stage they are just fun to watch and get a medal out of. The stage gimmick comes from select enemies that make the whole screen flash when killed, and turn all bullets into medals instantly. Even without much practice, you can easily have chains of over 600 in this level just from the smallest medals.

The boss is another variation on a Giant Battleship, this time a train-like vehicle that you destroy car by car. Each section has multiple targets, but it is the central portion that you need to destroy. If you hit it hard with the Mosquito system you can take down the cars pretty fast.

The last stage is a nightmare. Enemies are fast and most of them shoot a stream of bullets from the time they arrive on the screen until they leave. Large enemies flood the screen with still more bullets. I played through this stage three times to write this review and even after watching a superplay, I have no clue how to survive this stuff.

After that, the final boss first form isn't too bad. It starts as a flying saucer that bounces around and shoots some pretty nifty bullet patterns, with complex patterns that look more like Cave patterns. When that form has had enough it sits down in the middle of the screen and two more turrets activate on the sides. The third form is a rose with some small enemies, but mostly it just covers the screen in curtain fire. The actual final boss comes out of the rose. It starts as a crystal, then turns into a metal angel.

Once you've beaten that angel, you'll get a cutscene about how the Mosquito program was a resounding success and some crap about peace.

One thing I found by playing the later stages is that Mars Matrix is way harder than Giga Wing. This game is sometimes held as Takumi's best, though I prefer Giga Wing. The Dreamcast port of Mars Matrix adds a couple digits to the counter so you won't max it out, and also changes the scoring system on bosses slightly. It also allows you to map a button for continuous Piercing Laser fire, something that is a little hard to do with the arcade's single button.

If you liked Giga Wing, give Mars Matrix a try. If you didn't like Giga Wing, I doubt you'll like this one.


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