Steel Rain: Glacus Prime Stage 2


Steel Rain is a shoot ’em up game with a base creation game in between battles.

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Alien Breed

[youtube id=”jFqtJLZ7SsU” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Alien Breed

Oh, the hours I used to spend playing this bloody game. Not only was Alien Breed one of the best games on the Amiga, it was also one of the hardest – not least because of its incredible stinginess when it came to handing out health and ammo. God knows how I had the patience to keep playing, but I just couldn’t put it down.

Actually, when I come to think of it, the main reason this game was so damn hard was the control system. Because the Amiga only had a one-button joystick, you had to move ever so slightly in the direction you wanted to shoot before pressing fire, meaning that if an alien was sneaking up behind you, in the process of turning round to shoot it you’d more often than not end up walking into it instead. Of course, on modern consoles this problem could easily be solved by just assigning one thumbstick to movement and one thumbstick to directional fire, but obviously this wasn’t an option at the time (and I seem to remember The Chaos Engine suffered a similar problem).

alien_breed

Still, ropey controls aside, this was a brilliant game, and a brilliant-looking one too – the level design really managed to capture the feel of the Alien films the game was so shamelessly ripping off, and it’s still one of the best-looking Amiga games out there. Although I always wondered about the character design – why did the protagonist have an orange head? Did Earth’s government send one of the Incredible Crash Test Dummies to defeat the alien menace?

alien_breed

My favourite bit was when you were tasked with activating the level’s self-destruct system (obviously in homage to the films:  “Mother! Turn the cooling unit back on! Mother!…You BITCH!” (Alien), “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” (Aliens), and so on and so forth (love those lines)). Suddenly the clock in the top left corner would start ticking down and you’d be left to frantically steer your crash test dummy in the direction of the (incredibly far away) elevator, cursing every godforsaken alien that leapt out in front of you and panicking as your already slim supply of bullets ran out. Classic Amiga gaming.

alien_breed

However, I can’t write about Alien Breed without mentioning Team17′s (ridiculous) long-running feud with Amiga Power. Like many Amiga owners, I was a big fan of Team 17, and the company turned out some absolutely classic Amiga games (the Alien Breed series, Arcade PoolProject XWorms, etc.), but any time that Amiga Power gave one of their games a mark below 90%, they’d throw their toys out of the pram. It was ridiculous. Sure, they made some great games, but they also made some highly questionable rubbish – F17 Challengesprings to mind – yet for some reason they seemed to think that everything they touched turned to pure gold, and they even tried to sue AP for giving one of their games (Kingpin) a low mark. You can read Amiga Power‘s account of the Team 17 ‘vendetta’ here, and here is a link to an astonishingly libellous article in the French magazine Amiga Concept, which basically claims that AP killed the Amiga by giving low marks to Team 17 games.

alien_breed

For me though, Alien Breed (along with its many sequels) was Team 17′s finest hour, and I’m very intrigued by Alien Breed Evolution, the Alien Breed remake (of sorts) that recently appeared on Xbox Live Arcade. Sadly, according to theGamespot review, the new game seems to do a good job of capturing the negative aspects of the original with its ‘repetitive and dated gameplay’, ‘occasionally unwieldy controls’ and ‘instantly forgettable’ story (although at least they’ve made it a little easier this time around, so hopefully players will be less inclined to gnaw their own limbs off in frustration). Reading this review made me think that perhaps I’m seeing the old Alien Breed through rose-tinted spectacles, that perhaps the mist of nostalgia has obscured the frustrations and limitations of Team 17′s magnum opus. Perhaps, as the review claims, the original AB is an example of ‘a classic game that wouldn’t hold up too well if you were to go back and play it today’.

alien_breed

Perhaps. But whatever the reality, I still have fond memories of this rough-edged Amiga classic, even if Team 17 tarnished their crown somewhat through their litigious relationship with AP.

alien_breed

And what’s wrong with being ‘repetitive and dated’ anyway?

Amazingly, the incredibly badly drawn intro took up an entire disk. Still, the music was good, even if the graphics looked like something from Tony Hart’s Gallery:

ASO: Armored Scrum Object

ASO – Armored Scrum Object a.k.a. Alpha Mission (1985)
By: SNK  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 20,480 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nintendo NES

Armored Scrum Object

You know, the history of videogames can be funny. As genres were born, some examples of their games were forgotten almost as soon as they appeared while others went on to be remembered as landmarks, even legends in the years to come. The ones most fondly recalled were generally the most playable, not necessarily the most innovative, and that brings me to ASO (or Alpha Mission as most will probably know it). I must confess that I’d never seen or played it before undertaking this feature. I had vague knowledge of its sequel on the Neo Geo, but this original? Not a clue. When I started playing it though, I was rather pleasantly surprised for, as it turns out, ASO is a very innovative game considering its age! Is its obscurity a blip in history or is it deservedly ignored?

Armored Scrum Object

Its innovation doesn’t extend to its story though! Yep, it’s the same old nonsense – evil aliens attacking Earth, blah, blah, blah. In this case, seven waring races from the Tetranova galaxy have been fighting with such ferocity that all their homeworlds have been destroyed. Finding unity in their newfound homelessness, they have joined forces to find a new home on which they can recover and rebuild their fleets before going to war once again and, as you may have guessed, that new home they’ve selected is Earth! Eeek! Fear not though, as you’ve been given the chance to kick them off using the SYD attack fighter, which for once isn’t an ‘advanced prototype’ either! Using this ship you must fight through twelve areas before Earth can be saved and peace restored to one and all.

Armored Scrum Object

One of the first things I noticed about ASO is that the twelve vertically-scrolling stages generally feature just as many targets on the ground as they do airborne ones. To that end, the SYD fighter is capable of firing its laser cannon to take out the squadrons of various enemy craft but it can also fire missiles to destroy ground targets. Many of the latter include several types of gun turrets, but there are also many parts of the scenery that can be destroyed and it’s in the smouldering remains of these that the game’s many power-up icons can be found, and this is perhaps what impressed me most about the game. Yes, its mixture of airborne and ground-based targets is somewhat reminiscent of Xevious but the plethora of collectible icons here is impressive for such an early game!

Armored Scrum Object

This is also where things can get a little complicated! The icons are marked by both letters and colours. Those marked with ‘S’, ‘L’, or ‘M’ will upgrade the SYD’s speed, laser power, and missile power respectively, but the ones marked with ‘E’ will gradually increase your energy meter which powers the various weapons or ‘armors’ available. The SYD has two of these permanently – the lasers and missiles – but the others must be collected and each is split into three pieces. Once all three pieces of a given armor are collected it is available for use, but only once your energy reserves have reached a sufficient level too. Once this happens you can select which armor you wish to use (only out of the ones you’ve collected of course) and unleash it accordingly!

Armored Scrum Object

There are eight different collectible armors altogether and aside from a shield they are all offensive including more powerful cannons, super-missiles, and energy beams, right up to a powerful smart-bomb style attack. Using any of them will deplete your energy and they only last for a limited amount of time or number of shots, plus some are better in certain situations than others, so strategic use is advised! There are many other icons to be found too – twenty in total, amazingly – and even one of my sizable reviews isn’t big enough to go into all of them, but suffice to say it’s possible to upgrade and downgrade your ship’s various attributes and, mercifully, there are also icons that let you keep your various power-ups after a life is lost, one each for speed, lasers, and missiles.

Armored Scrum Object

Other icons include ones that increase the size of your energy tanks, ones for warps and bonus points, extra lives… all sorts of things, and as long as you keep firing those missiles, the landscape will be littered with them, and that’s probably the best thing about this game – your progress is almost entirely down to intelligent collection and use of the millions of icons or ‘energy tiles’. In spite of their numbers, however, the stages themselves are constantly busy with lots of small enemy fighters flitting backwards and forwards taking pot-shots at you, punctuated by the occasional larger, more powerful craft, but the end-of-level bosses are very challenging, at least at first before you adapt to their attacks and learn a few tricks. Some even fire homing-bullets which are really annoying!

Armored Scrum Object

This combined with the slightly sluggish controls and the fact that the collision-detection often makes your ship seem to be a little bigger than it is conspire to make this is one tough game! While the music and sound effects are merely functional, the graphics here are pretty impressive. The stages aren’t enormously varied despite seemingly being set on both spacestations and on planets, but the sprites are varied and well-detailed too and the great use of colour means things rarely get confusing.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co8dKqWsAVs[/youtube]

This is all impressive enough anyway but when you consider that ASO was released in the same year as the legendary but more basic Gradius, it’s pretty amazing! SNK have managed to pack a huge amount into this game – its twelve stages, twenty power-up icons, and eight weapons is far in excess of anything else I’ve seen from other games of this age and on top of that it’s great fun too, if a little hectic. It’s very much a game where practise pays off though and I’m now greatly looking forward to giving the sequel on the Neo Geo powerhouse the once over! Ultimately the few little niggles mentioned prevent this from being an top-ranked blaster but I’m still very surprised it isn’t better remembered.

RKS Score: 7/10

Truxton

 

Truxton - Gameplay Screenshot - Banner

Truxton, or Tatsujin (Japanese for ‘Expert’), is a viciously addictive vertical shoot’em up. It was released by Taito in 1988. For the folks In the US, the game was licensed to Midway and Romstar for manufacture and distribution.

Truxton - Gameplay Screenshot

The premise of the game is quite simple – you control a fighter ship, taking power-ups and weapon-selection items along the way, and then using them to shoot down enemies. When the going gets tough, one press of the Tatsujin-bomb button exterminates every enemy on screen (the motherships and big bosses take more hits to kill).

Truxton - Gameplay Screenshot

As you progress through each area, it gets more critical to collect the various power-ups and weapons that come your way. The souped-up weaponry, like the green Tatsujin-beam, assist in killing the motherships with fewer shots. The game has 5 big bosses to defeat across 200 hundred areas (not levels!).

Truxton - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Vertical shoot’em ups have a simple premise, but the devil is in their gameplay detail.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_qoaWICjgc[/youtube]
Truxton has no shortage of gameplay and the vast areas and different enemy types, will keep you occupied for a long while. Put your space-suit on, whack on your helmet, and get in that fighter ship – the universe depends on it !

Truxton - Gameplay Screenshot - Cabinet

Manufacturer: Toaplan
Year: 1988
Genre: Vertical Shoot’em Up
Maximum number of players: 2
Gameplay: Alternating
Joystick: 8-way
Buttons: 2 (Fire and Bomb)
Control Panel Layout: Single Player
Sound: Amplified Mono (single channel)
Cabinet: Upright Standard
Weapons: Red – Power Shot, Blue – Sun Lader and Green – Tatsujin-Beam

 

Fantasy Zone 2

Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)
By: Sega  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System  First Day Score: 40,000
Also Available For: Arcade, Nintendo NES, MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Sega pretty much invented the quickly-dubbed ‘cute em up’ sub-genre with Fantasy Zone and it was an interesting fusion of gaming styles. The bright, colourful graphics full of funny-looking creatures and cute characters belied the tough shooting action the game provided, but it proved to be very popular and was converted to several platforms of the time. Set ten years later, this inevitable sequel tells pretty much the same story as the first game – the now-expanded territory of the Fantasy Zone has come under renewed attack from the evil Menon Empire who are once again attempting to construct a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. He’s getting on a bit now but Opa-Opa still springs into action to save the day!

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot
Fantasy Zone 2 The Tears of Opa-Opa, to give it its full title, initially appears to be more of the same from Sega, and there is in fact little difference between this and the first game beyond the cosmetic, but that’s certainly no cause for complaint when the first game was so good! There are again eight stages and each but the last is a free-scrolling, looped stage featuring a constant stream of small enemies, usually moving in formation or patterns, whose sole job it is to prevent you from destroying the larger, enemy-spawning Menon ‘bases’ on each stage, of which there are substantially more this time. Eliminating them all will lead to a boss fight before progressing to the next round.

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

The biggest difference between this and the first Fantasy Zone game is that each round is now divided into several different areas. Destroying enemies still releases coins (and notes now, too) of varying value but some Menon bases leave behind a blue warp instead. These allow you to travel back and forth between the areas, each of which generally contains four or five bases. There is also one base that will leave behind a red warp when destroyed. This leads to the boss but you can’t enter it until all the bases are destroyed. Opa-Opa’s basic armaments remain his weak but rapid-fire twin shot, and slow-firing but more powerful bombs. Fortunately there is again a shop to help him out which this time stays put once it appears rather than floating around for just a few seconds as before. Most of the old engine and weapon upgrades return, such as the jet engine, wide beam, laser, seven way shot, and twin bombs (which are much more useful this time) and there’s a few new ones too like the big shot, three way shot, and twin big bombs. As before, the speed-ups and twin bombs will last for the remainder of that life but the other shot and bomb upgrades are time or shot-limited.
Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot
The eight rounds are all set on new planets and as such there are many glorious new wonders to behold here, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest draws of Fantasy Zone 2. Not only does each round have its own background, but most of the areas within each round do too, and they are mostly superb! As well as being unique (and very colourful, as you might imagine!), they are much more diverse than in the first game and feature particularly impressive ice and fire stages. Each stage is also home to unique enemies who are varied and superbly detailed for the most part. There is a little slow-down when things are at their busiest, but this remains one of the prettiest, most vibrant games available for the Master System.

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Anyone who’s played Fantasy Zone will know exactly what to expect here. Sega has tinkered with the premise very little for the sequel and, aside from the new graphics, sound, and level structure, this is essentially the same again but even better. It remains a pretty tricky game, with some smaller enemies moving very quickly and occasionally seeming to appear from nowhere, but it’s not unfairly difficult and playing though it is great fun. As well as taking you to new areas, the warps are extremely helpful for escaping from oncoming hordes of enemies, and thanks to the easier access to the shop, it’s now possible to buy weapon upgrades and save them for the bosses, so you could say the going is a little easier here. In fact, the only thing here that’s worse than the first game is the music which is still pretty good but not as memorable as the first game. Overall, this is a fantastic sequel that retains all the charm of the first game and adds more of its own.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3J8vP02wEFs[/youtube]

RKS Score: 9/10

Act-Fancer: Cybernetick Hyper Weapon

Act-Fancer-Cybernetick Hyper Weapon

So let me start off by telling you the name alone is enough reason to at least see what it is about. In a nutshell it is a scrolling shoot em up game published by Data East in 1989. The game has a cyborg that has to fight off tons of aliens and collecting power ups in order to become stronger and survive.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=434FsyxSusU[/youtube]

Point blank, I suck at this game. Seriously, look at the video, that’s me. I am good at games or I was, but I could not get off of level one. Maybe I should not do videos on these types of games because it shows how far I have fallen.

One thing is for sure, like in R-Type the key is being as powered-up as possible at all times or you will be owned. See, that boss at the end of the video. I am sure I would have owned him with full power-ups, but as that little bug I got squashed. This is a sad state of affairs.

4D Warriors

4-D-Warriors

Today’s classic gaming video is from the Corland made game 4D Warriors. Here is a description from Arcade central.

The game is a horizontal scrolling shooter in which you take
control of a jetpack propelled space warrior who travels between parallel
universes and worm holes (hence 4-D or 4 dimensions) throughout the game.

By flying over the top of the play field, you end up in an alternate universe.
You travel back and forth defeating enemies until you reach a boss creature.

On some occasions a worm hole will appear in the middle of the play field
and you are taken to even stranger worlds…

The game contains at least six distinct worlds. You begin in a red
zone populated by a variety of surreal enemies. The red zone also
contains at least three kinds of powerups in the form of crystals.

By going over the top of the red zone, you can enter a blue zone.

The blue zone is where the level boss first appears. Once the boss is
sufficiently damaged, it will retreat to

the red zone, where you can destroy it and advance to the next
level. When the boss is not present, the level contains a
selection of enemies that behave similarly to those in the red
zone, although their appearance is somewhat different.

99: The Last War

99_the_last_war

Today’s classic gaming video features the 1985 Shoot-Em Up,  99 The Last War or Son of Phoenix as it is known in the U.S. Released by Proma your mission is to prevent an invasion from the evil Aquila Empire. Sadly, it appears you are the only person who can do this in your land-based vehicle which must fight wave after wave of enemies.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Detz0rwHlck&list[/youtube]

The game plays like a mix between Galaga and Space invaders and features a shield button as well as a fire button. You can activate the shield before the vessel’s energy meter depletes to protect yourself against incoming missiles. Backgrounds depict a variety of locales, from futuristic cityscapes to moon surfaces, but it was 1985 so all the backgrounds are just static images.

TransBot

TransBot - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

TransBot (1986)
By: Sega  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Master System  First Day Score: 36,940
Also Available For: Nothing

Despite being pretty popular here in the UK, the Master System was never really the most popular console of all-time. The comparative lack of games could be one reason, the NES was awash with thousands of games after all, but it’s still a shame as Sega’s sleek-looking console was pretty innovative for its time. Among the bright ideas it housed was a ‘Smart Card’ system, adapted from an accessory for Sega’s earlier Japan-only console, the SG-1000, which was an alternative to the high-cost ROM cartridges used for most games. The card system was effectively home to a budget range of games early in the Master System’s life before being dropped, but considering the number of games released on the format barely reached double figures, it didn’t really matter too much!

TransBot - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

TransBot was, however, one of the few games to find a use for Sega’s card format (although it was later released on cartridge too, which kind of defeated the object). It’s a pretty basic horizontally scrolling shmup set after a nuclear war. Having sought refuge underground, Mankind slowly starts to emerge only to find Dalaus, a computer left over from the old world, has designs on the planet itself and has sent its minions to see us off! Luckily, our hero has access to at least one device with which to try and stop them – the CA-214 fighter. This ‘TransBot’ fighter initially seems normal enough, but it has the ability to change its form, and with these changes come new armaments. The default form of the fighter is a fairly unassuming jet / spaceship type craft which movies slowly and is equipped with a puny forward shot.

TransBot - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Enemies come in a variety of small, uncomplicated forms, and are easily dispatched, even with the default craft. However, they move much more quickly, and often in screen-spanning formations, so it’s sometimes easier to just avoid some of them. Trundling periodically along the bottom of the screen is a small truck which is apparently a munitions vehicle which, when shot, will release an icon branded with a question mark. Collecting this will trigger the power-up bar at the top of the screen to begin cycling through letters A – G, each denoting a particular power-up. Press the button to stop it moving and you’ll get the weapon it landed on. Many of these involve your craft transforming into a robot with increased firepower such as simultaneous forward and rear shots, three-way shots, wide shots, etc. However, this also makes the craft larger and therefore more likely to be hit. Luckily your craft can also be powered-up in its smaller form too!

TransBot - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Unlike most shmups, rather than lasting until the player loses a life, these power-ups only last for a limited time and it’s not long! Fortunately the munitions trucks are frequent and certain weapons are more suitable for particular sections, so it actually works out pretty well. This isn’t the only slightly unusual feature in TransBot either. Your ship has an energy bar for one thing, which allows you to sustain several enemy hits before going down rather than falling victim to a single strike. Also, and perhaps most obviously, there is no real level structure, with the game instead cycling through two different types of background – a pretty standard, planetary surface, and a metallic-looking enemy base of some sort ending in a boss – and the game goes on, cycling through them forever as far as I can tell! This makes TransBot an excellent score-attack game, something backed up by the fact that world authority on score-keeping, Twin Galaxies, has an official record for the game!

TransBot - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Given the popularity of the Transformers at the time this was released, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration for the main character came from, but I’m not really sure it works too well. It’s at best an under-used gimmick here, but does that make this a bad game? Well, back when my trusty Master System was my main console of choice and its games were freely available in high-street stores, I always steered clear of this game. Every magazine review I saw of the game slated it, despite its cheaper price point. If it was that bad then, it must be terrible now, right? Well, no actually. Being both a budget game as well as an early release for the Master System, TransBot is understandably basic, in concept as well as aesthetics, but it’s actually not at all bad, and certainly not as bad as I’ve believed all these years! Yes, the graphics and sound are bland and repetitive, and with games like R-Type, Fantasy Zone, Cloud Master, and others available, there seems to be little reason to play this, and I’m guessing this is from where the aforementioned scorn originates, but it’s a decent enough little blaster which is challenging, addictive, and good fun.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kzmHCYnSQg[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

Top Five Amiga Shmups

It’s generally accepted that, outside of the arcades at least, shoot ’em ups have always been the province of consoles. There were a few good examples on the Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore 64, Atari 400 & 800, etc, and the arrival of the more powerful 16-bit machines should’ve heralded even more, but they never really came, despite the genre’s enduring popularity. Few could argue with either the quantity or quality of offerings on the likes of the NES, PC Engine, or MegaDrive, and I myself, in my days as a die-hard Sega fanboy, used to champion the latter console as Lord of Shmups. Of all the computers, however, it was arguably the Commodore Amiga that fared the best with its shmups with not only some decent arcade conversions but also a good few original games too. In fact, I believe all the games in this Top Five were Amiga exclusives! Here they are:

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: Unlike my usual Games-Related Top Five Disclaimers, which cover my arse by mentioning that the list was compiled only from games that I already know and love, and that any great games not featured may well not yet have been played by me, this one is different, mainly because I never was a big Amiga gamer and probably hadn’t even played five shmups on it! Therefore I had to research this list thoroughly by playing each game via emulation. However, to finally get to the actual ‘disclaimer’ part, there was a few supposedly great games that I wasn’t able to play (because they didn’t work). Therefore, assuming I ever am able to play them, I’ll make a revised list accordingly. Phew!

5. Agony (1992)

Agony - Amiga

Regarded as something of a tart by many Amiga owners, it’s easy to see where Agony gets this reputation – the presentation and graphics really are something else and leave the gameplay with a lot to live up to. It’s certainly a pretty original concept, with you in control of an owl which uses echo-location to take down the masses of evil creatures spread across the six worlds that lie between it and the ‘Cosmic Power’ that it seeks. The intro/loading screens feature beautiful artwork and music, and in-game action is similarly gorgeous. This certainly isn’t the most playable shmup I’ve played, even just on the Amiga, but at the same time its reputation seems a little unfair. Besides its stunning aesthetics Agony is a unique and enjoyable horizontal-scroller which would’ve blown my socks off if I’d discovered it when it originally came out!

4. Project-X (1992)

 

Project-X - Amiga

Released to much fanfare by Team 17 during their superb run on the Amiga, this is another one with amazing aesthetics. It’s far less original and moody than Agony, being a somewhat generic game set in space and across all the usual landscapes, but it nonetheless comes closer than any other Amiga shmup to duplicating the arcade/console style of shooter. The hi-res graphics are beautifully drawn and feature some amazing effects, and the sound is equally impressive with some great music, effects, and speech that MegaDrive owners (myself included) would’ve killed for. In fact, the only thing stopping this from taking top-spot is its insane difficulty level! Even at the peak of my skills I couldn’t get anywhere near the end of this otherwise ultra-playable game. Responding to pleas from gamers, Team 17 did release a Special Edition of the game which toned down the difficulty though, and if I get around to buying that version perhaps it will feature higher in the list next time.

3. Scorpio (1989)

Scorpio - Amiga

This is one I had absolutely no knowledge of prior to looking into this Top Five but I’m very glad I found it, for it’s one of the most addictive little blasters I’ve played! Initially seeming to be a very basic and fairly uninspiring game, it soon reveals itself to be a tough but rewarding, not to mention highly enjoyable shooter. Its creators had clearly been sniffing around the back-catalogue of Irem though, as this is basically a vertically-scrolling take on R-Type! Your little ship can be equipped with a Force-style attachment, the weapons are a copy of those from Irem’s classic, the power-up capsules themselves look the same, and there’s even a circle of guns! Some of the the ‘homages’ are far from subtle, but it’s hard to complain when it’s as well done as this.

2. Datastorm (1989)

Datastorm - Amiga

Here’s another one that takes its inspiration from elsewhere, this time from both Defender and Dropzone, the latter of which is itself a Defender clone! The object is to rescue at least one of the eight pods drifting along the floor of each stage and drop them at a portal while pesky Landers try to steal them. Millions of other enemies also swarm each stage and all must be eliminated. Datastorm is a tough, fast-paced game that rewards practise and is a fantastic score-attack game! This is one of the few Amiga games I really have spent a lot of time playing, first on my friend’s Amiga, then on my own when I finally got one, and now again via emulation, and it’s never gotten boring. Fantastic music and sound effects too.

1. Apidya (1992)

Apidya - Amiga

For some reason I never knew about this one when it came out but I’ve heard about it repeatedly over the intervening years and know how highly regarded it is amongst the Amiga fraternity. Having finally played it for this feature, I can see why! Much like Agony, it’s a unusual premise for a shoot ’em up. Here, you take control of a magical honeybee (although it looks more like a wasp to me) and must battle against other insects, garden beasties, and all manner of others monstrous adversaries across five stages. The game has nicely detailed, colourful stages and great music, but it’s the finely-honed gameplay that is most responsible for Apidya’s grand reputation. The stages and weapons are nicely designed and it’s a real pleasure playing through this interesting and unique shooter.

Fantasy Zone

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Fantasy Zone (1986)
By: Sega  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Master System  First Day Score: 9,100
Also Available For: Arcade, Game Gear, Nintendo NES, PC Engine, MSX, X68000
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Love them or loathe them, videogame mascots were big business in the 80’s and 90’s. Every system needed one and most of them received one too, for good or ill. Well, they did until ultra-violent First Person Shooters became the staple of each machine’s lineup, at least. Anyway, Sega is best known to most for Sonic, but before they conjured up that pesky blue hedgehog they tried out a couple of other potential characters. One of them was Opa-Opa, a curious sentient spaceship type of creature. He didn’t last long as head mascot though – Sega soon switched their attention to Alex Kidd before he too was forgotten, but Opa-Opa is an endearing little chap all the same whose games remain fondly remembered today. This is the first.

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Fantasy Zone saw his debut with this Master System release being converted from the arcade game of the previous year. It, and indeed the later games in the series are set in a place called… umm… the Fantasy Zone, oddly enough, which consists of several planets. In the midst of some sort of spacial recession, the residents of one of these planets, Menon, decide to try and strip all the wealth from the other planets to fund the construction of a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. Understandably upset at this blatant lack of community-spirit, the residents of the remaining planets nominate Opa-Opa to stop the forces of Menon. To do this he must visit each of the eight planets they’ve occupied and kick them out, which means taking to the skies in the form of a side-viewed shmup. But this is no run-of-the-mill side-scroller.

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Each but the last of the eight stages is free-scrolling, meaning he can fly in either direction, and they are also looped. Populating each of them are six enemy ‘bases’ (large Menon creatures) which just, sort of, sit or hover there, spawning smaller Menons periodically. The object of each stage is to destroy all the bases, at which point a large boss will appear. However, to make life as difficult as possible for you, each stage is also home to a large variety of absolutely bizarre smaller Menon creatures. Some of them are solitary but they generally attack in formation. Opa-Opa is equipped with a weak but rapid-fire twin shot cannon and he can also drop small bombs. Contact with any enemy, large or small, is of course immediately fatal, however. The pesky Menons are useful for one thing though – destroying a group of them or a base results in a coin dropping from their last position and bouncing around for a short time before disappearing. Grab these quickly and you can spend them in the shop to upgrade Opa-Opa’s abilities.

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

The floating shop icon appears at the start of each stage, and occasionally later on too if you spend enough time on a stage. Upon entering this apparently Tardis-like shop you are presented with various items covering three categories. Opa-Opa is apparently a winged creature and the shop offers the chance to give him bigger wings, or even one of several engines. These are of course speed-ups, and a similar range of upgrades are available for his standard shot (such as wide shot, laser, seven-way shot) and his bombs (twin bombs, fire bombs, heavy bombs, etc). The speed-ups will last for the remainder of the life but the shot upgrades are timed and most of the bomb upgrades only last for one shot, so pick your targets carefully!

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

If there’s one thing that the Fantasy Zone games are known for, it’s their cute, garishly-coloured visual style. Whilst it would be unfair to focus just on that, it’s certainly easy to see where the reputation comes from! This is among the most colourful games I’ve played – some stages such as the first feature bright greens, pinks, and blues, whereas others such as the third stage are adorned in more restrained pastels, but the sheer variety in colours used throughout the game really is amazing. The sprites are mostly small but nicely drawn, although I’ve absolutely no idea what most of them are meant to be, but the variety of the visuals through the game is amazing. Something else Fantasy Zone is well known for is its excellent audio. The original music and effects featured here are of a very high standard and would go on to be used for most of the other games in the series, and the tunes have been remixed several times to great effect.

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

No matter how cute and colourful the game might look, however, it certainly isn’t easy! The smaller Menon attackers in each stage are infinite and there only to get in your way. They grow ever faster and more plentiful as the game wears on, and they change direction without any warning. Some of them have such erratic flight paths/formations it’s hard to predict where they’re going to go, and therefore where you can go, and their bullets travel at lightning speeds in the later levels. With all this in mind, it’s fortunate that the collision-detection is spot on, to the pixel. You still won’t get far in this game without careful use of the shop and its wares though, and each time you purchase most of the upgrades, they’ll increase in price for the next time you need them!

Fantasy Zone - Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

There really isn’t anything else quite like Fantasy Zone. Its unique gameplay style, not to mention its eye-bleeding visuals, mean the series has its detractors of course, much like any other, but there can’t be too many gamers who don’t appreciate this classic. It’s precise play-mechanics make it a joy to play and it’s as addictive as any shooter I’ve played. Despite its challenging nature, it’s such a happy, vibrant game, you can’t really help but enjoy it.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyqrEydoemU[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

Gun Frontier

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Gun Frontier (1990)
By: Taito Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,330 (one credit)
Also Available For: Sega Saturn

As most of us already know, shmups are one of the most common types of games around, or at least they were in the ‘good old days’! A majority of them featured basic stories merely to facilitate the action which usually revolved around some sort of evil dictator/alien invading a country or planet or something, perhaps kidnapping someone important in the process. So leave it to Taito to come up with a shmup story as off-kilter as this one! It’s set in the year 2120 when Mankind has escaped the confines of Earth and started colonising other planets. One of them, Gloria, is rich in gold, but it cost most settlers everything they had to reach it, so the planet has ended up with a civilisation somewhat akin to the American Wild West! Thanks to the abundance of gold though, Gloria provided a comfortable home to its inhabitants.

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Unfortunately, its gold also soon became a target for the ‘space thieves’ known as the Wild Lizards who invaded and quickly overwhelmed the comparatively primitive dwellers. Among them, however, was a few talented inventors and engineers were able to design and build two fighter planes in the shape of revolvers with wings (no, I’m not making this up). Much of this is revealed in the game’s pre-title screen intro sequence which includes some digitised stills of locals being traumatised. “Ah! Can anyone save us from this hell…” Yes, a chortlesome story it may be, but it does its job, perhaps overly elaborately, or giving you an excuse to shoot the crap out of the evil aliens, and this is done over six vertically-scrolling stages featuring some of the more intense blasting action yet offered by Taito!

Gun Frontier - Arcade

As might be evident from some of the screenshots, Gun Frontier looks and plays a lot like some other well-known vertical scrollers, notably Flying Shark. It features the same sort of tanks, squadrons of enemy fighters, and ground targets such as gun turrets and buildings, and even some of the backdrops are reminiscent. Not that this makes it a bad game, of course, just not very original. Maybe that’s what the Wild West theme is in aid of. Hmm, anyway. It seems the internal working of your aircraft doesn’t adhere to its antiquated design. If it did, you’d only be able to fire six shots before needing to reload! As is it, the rapid-fire, albeit weedy, ammunition is infinite. It initially consists of a twin shot which can be upgraded by collecting the silver ‘dimes’ that some destroyed enemies leave behind.

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Each time you collect five of these dimes your cannon’s power will be increased by one shot, ultimately enabling it to fire five shots at once. Your weird ship is also equipped with smart bombs whose power can be increased by collecting the gold bars left in the ruins of destroyed ground targets. Appearing less frequently is a spinning silver/gold dime. Collecting it when its silver side is showing will do the same as any other silver dime, but if you collect it with its gold side showing, it will instantly boost your shot and bomb power to maximum! Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as the power-ups are concerned, and you’ll need all the firepower you can get. The enemy attacks are relentless here with plenty of large tanks and battleships around to keep you occupied while the waves of smaller craft try to pick you off!

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Whilst plentiful, the design of the enemy craft are a bit hit and miss. Some of them are similar to many other shmups, as mentioned earlier, but for some odd reason many others seem to be based on old Wild West-era weapons that you (and potentially a friend, for two players can fight the Lizards together) control, which is a bit odd. It has been explained why the planet you’re fighting to save has a Wild West theme, but why would advanced aliens make their ships look the part too? Well, regardless of the motivations of the aliens, it’s an interesting look but I’m not sure I like it much personally. The sprites are all pretty good from a technical point of view though, and the screen is always busy with bullets, explosions, rockets, etc, and some enemy aircraft are even armed with flame-throwers!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDUUocNr_bw[/youtube]

The backdrops are generally pretty good with some nice details, such as a flock of birds flying away as a large underwater enemy starts to stir, but the choice of colours seems a bit dull and washed out for the most part. There’s a couple of nice graphical effects on show (such as the big blue ships in the screenshot above which change size as they change altitude), but nothing is really done with the strangely chosen Wild West theme beyond the aesthetic design of some sprites. In fact, the graphics, as well as the sound, and indeed everything about Gun Frontier really, is generally little more than average. It doesn’t do anything wrong and is perfectly playable, but at the same time there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen goodness knows how many times before either. Give this a go if you get the chance by all means, but don’t expect to be blown away by it either.

RKS Score: 6/10

Kino One Review

Kino One
Kino One can be described, in a nutshell, as the illegitimate child of a classic single screen shoot-em-up arcade game with a late 90s bullet-hell Japanese shmup, conceived after a particularly wild night of sake drinking. This is of course a good thing. Or at least it should be considered one by most indie-minded retro gamers, that tend to appreciate both these sub-genres and the overall anime aesthetic of the game. Especially as some R-Type inspired mechanics have also been thrown into the mix.

After all, Kino One, knows and loves its audience, and doesn’t try to appeal to the casual gaming crowd. It features lovely cell-shaded graphics to appease the little Japanese loving nerd that lives inside you, excellent comic book styled cutscenes, great video game humour, an intricate scoring system, and a brilliant virtual arcade sporting some truly well remade versions of Pong, Pac-Man, Arkanoid and more.

Kino One Gameplay Screenshot 1

Despite not being incredibly original and at times feeling slightly repetitive (some stages do drag a bit), one can’t help but notice the amount of care and polish poured into the thing. It features more than enough levels, impressive end bosses, different difficulty options and even comes packed with cute faux arcade flyers. Besides, the control scheme that effortlessly lets players cloak, use smart-bombs and shoot everything in sight works like a breeze and helps Kino One become a most addictive fun little high-score chase.

Oh, and the soundtrack is quite enjoyable and definitely appropriate too.

Kino One Gameplay Screenshot

Verdict: Not the most original shmup around nor a game for everyone, but excellent fun and absolutely stuffed with content to make retro-gamers, shmup addicts and manga worshipers drool. Also very cheap.

Visit the official Kino One website to find out more, download the demo or -better yet- grab a copy of the thing.

Top Five MegaDrive Shmups

Fire Shark Screenshot

5. Fire Shark (1990)

Flying Shark, in my view, is among the finest vertical scrollers of all-time so it’s a shame it never saw a release on a system able to do it justice, such as the MD. I guess we’ll have to settle for the game considered its unofficial sequel – Fire Shark! Still, it’s not much of a sacrifice as this game retains many of the distinctive features from its forebear and adds a few more of its own for good measure!

4. Super Fantasy Zone (1992)

Super Fantasy Zone Screenshot

After the three Fantasy Zone games on the Master System, many fans feared the end of the series was nigh. But these fears were unfounded, for this apparent final swan song on the MD is fully deserving of its ‘Super’ prefix! Instantly familiar to fans of the series, but bigger and better than ever before, this tough blaster had lovely graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, lots of new weapons, creative bosses, and the same ultra-addictive gameplay we had come to know and love!

3. Battle Squadron (1990)

Battle Squadron Screenshot

Arguably the MD’s best vertical scroller (that I’ve played, anyway), this offering from EA is really tough going, but don’t let that put you off. With no traditional level structure to speak of and a few nice ideas such as the ‘Chameleon’ ships which employ cloaking devices, and some fantastic music, it’s well worth persevering with. Plus, it has a card up its sleeve – it’s a simultaneous two-player game! A real rarity in this genre…

2. Hellfire (1990)

Hellfire Screenshot

This underrated gem was a pretty early release for the MD but still ranks among its best coin-op conversions. It doesn’t have the graphical tricks of some games (see below!), but it is one of the most polished, balanced shooters I’ve ever played. It’s true that it’s somewhat unforgiving (it’s basically a one-life game) and doesn’t really have much in the way of power-ups, but it’s hard to complain when the game is still so good! Varied levels, a rocking soundtrack, a well-graded dificulty curve, and perfect collision detection make this one of the best!

1. Thunder Force 3 (1990)

Thunder Force 3 Screenshot

Yes, yes, I know many of you prefer TFIV. I personally like all of the Thunder Force games, but I’m really struggling to remember any shooter I’ve enjoyed as consistently as this one on any system. It’s pretty easy (although maybe that’s just because I’ve played it so much!) but how could you not be impressed with this game? At the time of release it was among the best-looking games on any system, rife with fancy graphics effects, and features one of the best shmup soundtracks ever. Couple that with the huge variety between levels, impressive multitude of weapons, and immense enemies, and you’ve got a game that screams quality from every pore…

 

My Favourite Games – Part 3

Hello, I’m back a day late! I was too tired to post anything yesterday, I had a nice looong sleep for the first time in a while instead! And that means I’ve just worked, slept, and worked again since last posting, so I don’t have anything interesting to say! So, to resume with my favourite games:

Thunder Force 3 – Mega Drive (1990)

Thunder Force 3 Mega Drive

Back in my Sega fanboy days, I used to love it when a game like this came along. It would give me more ammunition to use against those who would seek to besmirch the good Sega name, and would almost always overshadow similar efforts on other machines (at least until the SNES came along!). I can fondly recall many arguments with my Amiga fanboy friend at college. Try as he might, he could never convince me that Project X was a patch on this game! I didn’t have to argue hard either. Featuring lush graphics, an awesome rocking soundtrack, kick-ass weaponry, big bosses, and eight varied levels (including the awesome lava stage, pictured), there’s not really much more a shoot ’em up fan could ask for here. Many people prefer the fourth game in the series, but it’s the third title all the way for me. Perhaps my fondness for this game comes from the fact that I rule at it, but there can be no doubting its quality. After all, how many other shooters are so good they have an arcade version made after they come out?

Datastorm – Amiga (1989)

Datastorm Amiga

There aren’t too many Defender clones as blatant as Datastorm, but it is without question my favourite, even including Defender and Dropzone. In fact, when I started playing it, I hadn’t even played Defender yet! A friend’s Amiga was the setting of many of these early sessions, and when I finally got my own Amiga, this was one of the first games I sought out for it. I remember buying it in a second hand store and the guy in the shop accidentally put two copies of the game in the case. Hee hee! Anyway, it’s similar in style to those aforementioned great games. The object is to collect at least one of eight pods drifting along the ground of each ‘wave’ and deliver it to the portal, then destroy the many and varied aliens. That’s about it. It’s not as insanely difficult as Defender but does have a few extras such as power-ups, bosses, etc, and it’s addictive as hell.

Head Over Heels – Spectrum (1987)

Head Over Heels Spectrum

There can’t be many Speccy owners who didn’t play this celebrated classic by Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond, it’s almost as famous as the Speccy itself! I have always been absolutely useless at it, but that never stopped me from loving it! Controlling, first either Head or Heels, then later on both at once, you are tasked with the liberation of the five planets of the Blacktooth Empire. The story doesn’t really matter a great deal though, it’s the gameplay that counts, and Head Over Heels has it in bucketloads! The stages are creatively designed and full of imaginitive touches and the graphics, though monocrome, are nicely defined and full of character. It is a bit tricky though, I can’t even finish the first planet! It’s amazing that I like it so much and I’ve not even seen 1/5th of its 300 screens! Maybe some day, huh?

Everybody’s Golf – PSP (2005)

Everybodys Golf PSP

Until recently, this ‘slot’ was filled by Neo Turf Masters on the NeoGeo Pocket Color, a fine game by any standards, and probably my favourite golf game too. That is, until I got this little gem for my PSP! Generally speaking, there are two types of golf games. The serious, take-an-hour-to-prepare-each-shot type game (eg, Tiger Woods series), and then there’s this kind. The arcadey, fun, not-so-serious cartoony sort that come from Japan. And it is this kind which is by far my favourite. The series debuted, of course, on the PS1 some years before, but this effort, which was a launch title for the PSP, is a significant improvement over that already fun effort. It’s a lot more forgiving for one thing, but, perhaps more importantly, it has a lot more longevity. Many, many tournaments are available to play though, and there’s more unlockable items than seems possible to begin with. New characters are among these items, but they mostly consist of often nonsensical things to customise your chosen character with. Nonetheless, they are a lot of fun to collect, and give an excuse to keep playing! Just need to find a bikini costume for my favourite, Yumeri now!

Worms Armageddon – Dreamcast (1999)

Worms Armageddon Dreamcast

It’s almost impossible that no-one has played at least one game in this classic, not to mention sizeable series of strategy games from Team 17. It’s also likely that there are better offerings than this one, such as one of the online play versions, but this is the version I’ve spent the most time playing, and therefore, at time of writing at least, my favourite. I’ve most often played this in two-player with my good buddy, Luke, but it can be played by up to four people at once, which can lead to some chaotic but entertaining battles! Admirably, Team 17 have also tried to improve the single player game by including a mission-based game mode, but it is the main game you’ll return to most often, even if you’re on your own! Nothing beats creeping up on a lairy CPU-controlled worm, dropping a bundle of dynamite next to him, and sneaking off again! Hee hee hee!

Back with the next five tomorrow…

 

Extermination

Extermination insert coin screenshot
Extermination insert coin screenshot

Extermination

In the age of vertical scrolling shoot-em-up games, Extermination attempted to do things slightly different in an attempted to mix things up. Released in 1987 by Taito you played as a solider out to rid the planet of nasty alien monsters.

The gameplay is pretty simple, you can move up and down or left and right and fire your gun at the numerous enemies that fly, run and crawl down the screen toward you. What made Extermination a bit different was you needed to kill the monsters in order to replenish your life.

As you were hit your life score would continue to drop, but as you killed the monsters tiny orbs would slowly drop down toward you. When you collected the orbs you would regain health, this helped to make sure that you killed as many monsters as you could.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR-j7A7UbpE[/youtube]

As you traversed the landscape you could also collect power-ups to increase your firepower and by destroying rocks and trees in your path you could discover hidden bunkers that housed more power-ups.

After mowing down a ton of alien monsters you would encounter a boss or mega-monster, after defeating it you would progress to the next level.

The game was not ground breaking by any means so much so that it did not even make it to a console system, but it makes for a fun arcade game which you can fine under the M.A.M.E platform.