Thursday, February 19, 2009

Armed Formation F (PC Engine)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
7 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nichibutsu
Published by Big Don/Pack-in Video in 1990

This is an arcade port that seems to be fairly decent by what I can see in the pictures from the arcade game, given the capabilities of the PC Engine hardware. It reminds me of Salamander and - to a lesser extent - Truxton, with a huge difference everybody will notice right from the start: colors, colors, a multitude of colors fill the screen to the point it gets annoying to distinguish bullets from backgrounds. This also poses another challenge when you have walls to deal with.

In a setting of organic fields mixed with some sci-fi scenarios, I consider the gameplay mildly enjoyable. You have a big hitbox but, on the other hand, collision detection is very well implemented, so you don't have unfair deaths during the various claustrophobic parts of the game. You'll always know why you died, unless you're in that 4th pink stage with pink bullets that seem to come out of nowhere sometimes (no, I'm kidding, but again this is where the color mixing problem has its peak in the game).

Memorization is sort of essential here if you want to perform well, but not to the point where you'll spend days going through the stages to nail them. The trick is adapting your weapon selection skills to the environment you're in. For the most part I sticked to the 45° 2-way disc shot, which is very powerful and has a good coverage when maxed out. Together with the formation attack, you can wipe out almost all enemies coming from the top of the screen before they reach the middle of the combat area, a condition that's very risky when the screen is filled with enemies. If you're out of the "F" formation icons, your weapon will simply flip backwards and vice-versa when you try to activate it, which is still useful, and again makes the 2-disc weapon the best choice of firepower.

In the music department, at least 2 or 3 songs are noteworthy for their sci-fi overall feel. However, the weakest aspect of this little shmup is by far the boss battles. All bosses are wimpy. Even the last boss is a wuss, despite the unpredictable nature of his attacks. The most difficult part of the game is stage 6: it has no intermediate checkpoints, and you'll get to the beginning if you die facing the boss (try standing on the left side with the disc weapon, it helps).

As with most PCE shooters, there are no options so you're stuck with the same difficulty forever, but the challenge is not as brutal as, for instance, a Raiden game. One extra life is granted after every stage, regardless of score or firepower. That makes Armed Formation F a good choice for an average shmup to beat during a weekend or a time span of 1 to 2 days.

Here's my high score:

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