Thursday, February 9, 2012

Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Kyuun-Kyuun! Kyuun-Kyuun!

That's right, it's Macross on the Famicom! Ever watch Robotech: The Macross Saga as a kid? Well, Super Dimension Fortress Macross was the anime that Harmony Gold decided to bring over from Japan & market to us as Robotech.

This game is an arcade-style side-scrolling shmup based on elements from that show. You play as a VF-1 Valkyrie transformable fighter, capable from switching between Battroid (robot), Fighter, and Gerwalk (halfway between robot and jet.) The object of the game is to fly to shoot as many enemy battle pods on your way to the Zentradi battleship, which you ultimately infiltrate and destroy by "shooting the core!" all this while a chiptune version of the song from the show, "Shao Pai Lon" plays. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And that's just what this game is, the same level repeating over and over. At least, I think it's hard to tel,l as I usually lose all my lives on the first level. The game is crazy difficult.

Let's talk about the gameplay. You begin each level in fighter mode, the fastest of the 3 modes. Changing modes determines how fast the background scrolls and enemies fly by. You maneuver reasonably quickly in each mode, but the enemies prove to be ultimately faster. I usually play in Gerwalk mode, as it's not as insanely fast as the fighter, yet not as slow as the Battroid, and I still have trouble even then. Either you're running headlong kamikaze-style into bullets and enemies as the fighter, or you're a sluggish sitting-duck robot for the enemies to fly into anyway.

Thankfully, unlike other shmups, the game sports a health-bar, rather than one-hit kills. Still, though, it's nearly impossible to maneuver between the enemies and bullets, and even more impossible to shoot them all. You're also given a limited arsenal of seeking missiles, which really do no more good than your regular blaster.

There's some degree of fun to be had with Macross, but only for about 5 minutes. The repetitive levels and nearly-impossible difficulty make this game, for the most part, unenjoyable. If you're a fan of Macross, it's worth picking up as a novelty, as it's typically pretty cheap, but otherwise, I'd leave this one alone. At least it's better than Transformers: Convoy no Nazo.

1.5 out of 5 stars.


I recently had the misfortune of playing Darius Twin for the SNES. As my first taste of the Darius series, it did not leave a pleasant after-flavor. I decided to take a step back & go 8-bit with it.

Being one of the relatively few shmups available for the Master System, Sagaia is not only a senselessly-renamed port of the arcade game Darius II, but an 8-bit realization of the Genesis/Mega Drive port of the same name. Obviously some things were lost in the translation, but just how does this game compare to its bigger, better versions?

This version of Sagaia is a Europe-only game; with a release date of 1992, the Master System phased out in the States nearly 3 years before. However, Sega's 8-bit system fared much better in Europe and Brazil well after the release of the Mega Drive. As such, many Mega Drive games, such as Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog were released on the Master System. Sagaia was one such game.

Let me stop here and say that I'm a huge fan of 8-bit shmups in particular. It's so interesting how the best games pushed the systems beyond their supposed limits. Games like Recca and Crisis force for the Famicom are great examples of this. The Master System is known for generally having better graphics than the NES...or, at least, more colorful graphics. I will be frank and say that Sagaia is very near to being as good graphically as the SNES, and is right on par with Recca in the same regard. It may not be as fast-paced, but the amount of sprites and colors displayed on the screen with relatively little slowdown, not to mention the parallax scrolling backgrounds, put most NES games to shame.

Gameplay-wise, Sagaia is your average side-scrolling shooter. Enemies come at you in waves, with certain enemies dropping simple power-ups; one for upgrading your primary weapon, one for upgrading your "lasers", your bombs, fires, and a shield. The shield is absolutely indispensable in this game, as you will often be boxed in, either by enemies or bullets. Halfway through each level, you fight a mini-boss, which I believe are smaller versions of bosses in the first Darius game. As with all games in the Darius series, bosses and mini-bosses have a fishy theme. My personal favorite of these bosses is in Zone G. You fight a beached naval battleship which, after blowing all the turrets off it, you find out is inhabited by a giant, mechanical hermit crab. Totally badass.

Speaking of the bosses, they're the one area of the game where players might falter a bit. The 8-bit systems couldn't always handle displaying both the background and a gigantic boss. In Sagaia, to compensate for this, the background disappears before you fight your fishy foe. Occasionally, there's a split second of lag before the boss appears, or after it's destroyed, but it's forgivable, as most of the bosses are quite impressive & worth letting the game pull itself together for a split second. For instance, the "Red Crab" boss you fight in Zone E moves surprisingly quickly for an 8-bit game. After blowing all of its limbs off, its crippled body begins filling the screen with bullets, doing so without slowing the game down in the slightest.

Sagaia is just a COOL game. The graphics are amazing. The music is catchy. The aquatic-themed boss add a nice, creative touch to the game. As a matter of fact, this game is made of nice touches. It's like the developers went to just a little extra effort to make this an awesome game. There's so much more I could say in this game's regard, but most of it would be gushing. Despite how impressive this game is, it doesn't seem to be talked about very much among Master System gamers. Perhaps it's because of the Darius series' tendency to cause polarizing opinions. Perhaps it's because of the game's Europe-only release status. Perhaps it's because, despite being relatively affordable, it's somewhat of a rarity. In any case, Sagaia is a game that you shouldn't hesitate to add to your Master System collection, if you get the opportunity. Not only is it a particularly awesome shmup, it's an all-around high-quality game for a system not known for high-quality games, and a great example of the amazing things the Master System was capable of.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Darius Twin

My first step in Taito's seemingly ever-popular Darius franchise is one of two Darius games on the SNES, the other being Darius Force (renamed "Super Nova" for the American release, for whatever reason.) Darius is a series of side-scrolling shmups with an interesting theme; all of the bosses are mechanical sea creatures! Other than that, there's little to distinguish Darius from other games of its genre, aside from the sometimes strange, albeit interesting music composed by Taito's own in-house music team "ZUNTATA." So how does this particular installment fare?

When the game powers on, we're greeted with an interesting cutscene with some pretty awesome orchestral music, and you could be forgiven into thinking you're in for a super-cool game. Sadly, you would be mistaken.

The game begins with some pretty bad music. It's not terrible, but it's just a bit annoying & very poorly mixed. The gameplay itself is pretty bland. The enemies all attack in predictable formations, and the all too frequent power-up drops make the game painfully easy. the only break in the simplicity is when a mini-boss flies in and kills you with a cheap,nearly-impossible-to-dodge shot.

The fishiness that the Darius series is known for is definitely here, though; all of the bosses, as expected, have an aquatic theme. It's interesting, but most of them are pretty easy to defeat, which adds to the incredibly lackluster feel of this game.

In short, the best thing about Darius Twin is its price. I paid about $5 for it. However, unless you're a die-hard fan of the Darius series, or you're a completist looking to finish your SNES shmup collection, there's really no reason to buy this game. If you're in the mood for a cheap SNES spaceship shooter, your $5 is better spent on Star Fox. The impression Darius Twin left me is one of disappointment & mediocrity, and I can only hope that this impression doesn't apply to the rest of the Darius series. One to avoid, unless you're REALLY desperate for a 16-bit shooter fix.

1.5 out of 5.