Some games are great because they have a clever, intricate plot. Some games have multi-layered characters that go on an emotional journey. And some games just have explosions. Lots and lots of explosions.
There is a plot behind this, some tosh about some geezer taking over the world or something equally inventive. But within seconds of getting into the game it is rendered entirely irrelevant.
This is a game about shooting a lot of stuff. It’s a good old fashioned run ‘n’ gunner, akin to anything from Turrican to Assassin. Uniquely at the start of the game you get to choose which of 4 (opening) levels you wish to take on before tackling the remainder in any order you like. You also get a choose of shooting set up. Firstly you can choose between either Free Shot or Fixed Shot; the former lets you move whilst shooting but limits your angle of fire, the latter fixing you to the spot but allowing 360 degree movement of your weapon. Secondly you choose a starting weapon, from fire bolts to more traditional rounds and others in between.
Whilst your decision to opt for fixed vs free shot is fixed, your choice of weapon is actually flexible mid-game. You get to carry to weapon slots and combining different characteristics – say fire and lightening – allow you to mix and match the best of what is on offer, or switch entirely to a different strategy.
Whichever level you plump for the action is intense from the off. Soldiers come flying at you from all angles, some dangling off ledges, some running from both left and right and others still jumping out of bases or moving trains. Opting for the fixed shot, I stand my ground and stray fiery death all around me, creating a cacophony of violence as bodies are torn asunder. The maxim here is simple; if it moves, shoot it and if it doesn’t move then shoot it anyway, just in case.
At first the chaos is overwhelming but you quickly acclimatise, learning on the fly that to stand still and admire your handiwork is a fools errand, the best strategy instead to keep moving and shooting. But these grunts are mere fodder. This is a game that revels in its boss encounters. Levels routinely have two or three of the blighters to dispatch, a differing strategy required to best each. My first playthough presents me with a weird block man who comes lumbering along the level after me, as well as a particularly angry plant. But these are just mid-level appetisers, the real boos waiting for me at the end of the level, a hulking great behemoth that uses an extendable platform to let an enemy grunt take pot shots at me whilst laser fire rains down. They victory when it comes is satisfying and hard won.
This is a terrific action blaster. Explosions are meaty, often filling the entire screen. The relentless waves of enemy grunts mean that there isn’t a single second of inactivity whilst each of the boss fights are a real challenge. Indeed I found myself having to go against my natural gaming instincts and drop the difficulty down to easy just to survive but even that remains an intense challenge. Your health is measured by a number gauge, decreasing with each hit or contact with an enemy and, especially in boss encounters, can be quickly worn down. There are continue points if you die but you often respawn just before a particularly tricky section and with you weapons reset to basic function, losing any of the pick ups you have obtained and therefore weakening you considerably. Make no mistake, this is a real challenge.
It might lack the complexity of modern gaming but this is terrific fun, a throwback to a time when simply surviving was an accomplishment in itself. Great looking, terrific sound and a simple but flexible control system. A real retrogaming delight that comes highly recommended.