30 Games Of April – Day 27

Project X
Developed by:Team 17
Published by:Team 17
Format played:Amiga 500

Oh, the game that so nearly was.

There are no shortage of quality shooters on the Amiga, with the arcade conversion of R-Type 2 chief among them. Never one to shy away from creating their own game from a popular genre, Team 17 designed Project X, a side scrolling blaster that hit the Amiga in 1992.

From the opening screens you know you are into something special. The title music, composed by Allister Brimble, is fantastic and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of the dance music compilations of the time. Selecting your craft, you can opt for a heavy bruiser, a light cruiser or something in between. And then it’s into the thick of the action. Gorgeous backdrops unfold before you, the care and attention that has gone into the graphical design evident from the off. ‘Defeat waves for power ups’ intones the sampled speech whilst you marvel at the weapons that come blasting out of your little ship. Not just from from the front but from top as well, plus a little rocket for picking up strays. You feel like a proper tooled up bad ass, ready to take it to whichever nefarious bunch of alien hoodlums needs cleaning out this time.

Yup, this is is an impressive piece of kit. A graphical showpiece. An aural delight. There’s just one problem. It’s ruddy impossible.

Things start off okay but it soon becomes clear that this is a false dawn. You are eased into the first level gently, enemy attack waves easily dispatched, power ups floating freely. But it’s not long before the problems start. The screen begins to fill up with enemies; they drift down from above, they zip across the screen, they weave in and out in formation and they twist and turn around the screen. And all the while they spit out the most pathetic looking orange blob that routinely blasts you out of the sky. But it’s not just that they destroy you. Oh no. Instead your craft goes into a despairing death plunge, falling to the floor in a fiery heap. Nice.

You kinda expect enemy fire to be vicious but these orange blobs look so puny it borders on arrogance. ‘Here weakling, I destroy you with this. Now fetch my slippers.’ Unless you have upgraded to bigger weapons, some attack waves are virtually impossible to take out and so you just have to find somewhere on the level to hide. In one instance I was chased around the screen by what looked like the big brother of the Jedi training ball out of A New Hope, barely able to land a shot on it as I ducked out the way of its relentless fire.

Level one concludes with, as these things always do, a boss encounter. This one is a little underwhelming after all that has come before, a weedy looking ship but one that swiftly pincers you against the edge of the screen and kills you. Or fires a rogue orange blob at you and kills you. Or fires a big blue loogie at you and kills you.

When you eventually make it past this beast, it’s onto level two and by god, it’s beautiful. But guess what? Team 17 found all sorts of new ways to kill you. Giant rocket ships that fly straight up the screen! Swarms of enemy ships that take more shots than you can dispense in the time it takes them to get across the screen then fills the screen with more of them so that you can barely move out of the way! Trees and rocks that will kill you if you crash into them, which you probably will when you try to move out of the way of the swarm of enemy ships that take more shots than you can dispense in the time it takes them to get across the screen then fills the screen with more of them so that you can barely move out of the way!

Of course your ship comes with some meaty firepower and those all important power ups give you something of a helping hand. Except that by level 2 it’s so hard to destroy an entire wave of a single enemy that you rarely get the chance to upgrade. There are a range of power ups from extra speed to improved guns to all sorts of different instruments of death. As you collect power up tokens, the highlighted power up moves from left to right, repeated selection of the same type offering you extra firepower. Picking your way through the level you meticulously collect the tokens, keeping your eye on the highlighted selection, building up to your weapon of choice. Now the moment is near, you’re ready to unleash the full power of your plasma cannon. You reach forward to hit the space bar to make your selection, but wait! Things are getting hectic on screen. You pull your hand back, gripping the joystick tightly. Tension begins to mount as you deftly manoeuvre your ship, sweat forming on your brow but you’re going to make it! In the heat of the action, in a last ditch desperate bid to avoid a fiery death, you waggle the joystick this way then that which for some reason – and get this – selects the power up. You watch in despair as you upgrade not to the mighty plasma cannon you had been building towards but instead effectively downgrade to an lower powered standard gun. Then you die.

This game is hard. It’s Chuck Norris eating three Shredded Wheat hard. It is gleefully, spitefully and repeatedly unfair. It hates you and it doesn’t care if you know about it. Look I don’t mind a challenge. I’ve been playing video games for nigh on 35 years. Still not that good at them mind but then it’s like I always tell the wife, what I lack in competence I try to make up for with enthusiasm. But this is just ridiculous. Team 17 have made a game that is a visual delight and then designed it in such a way that 95% of players will never see most of it. In fairness, they recognised this fact and the original 1992 release was followed by a 1993 Special Edition which made the game ever so slightly less impossible.

Despite its flaws this is still a tremendous game. If you have the patience to learn its routines, or if you’re just Superman, there is an immensely satisfying challenge to be overcome here. For the rest of us mere mortals, enjoy the two pretty levels you’ll survive long enough to see.

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