7 Difficulty levels
Ship speed fixed / selectable at start
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Developed by Taito in 1992
Published by Empire Interactive (Xplosiv) in 2006
As soon as I got back from a trip to Europe and unpacked I spent an afternoon testing the games I bought there. One of them was the Taito Legends 2 compilation, a bulky 43-title collection with some shmups thrown in. With some exceptions, most of them are very well known and already had ports in other systems, so I decided to check if there was a game I hadn't heard of at all. That's when I came across Grid Seeker: Project Storm Hammer, an arcade vertical shooter released by Taito in 1992.
The story emulates a war in the Gulf (it was 1992!) and at first sight the game itself didn't offer anything extra at all when compared to other shooters from the time period. It did seem harmless and 1CC-able in the short run, and that was what made me want to beat it. You see, I do have a knack for obscure and largely unplayed games! If only I had known where I was going into... Not since Robo Aleste for the Sega CD had I played an old school shooter that was so treacherous and kept me on my toes almost all the time if I wanted to play a serious credit. Simply put, it took me a lot longer to beat than what I had envisioned when I started the journey.
Grid Seeker presents itself as a variation on Sonic Wings. There are 3 planes available: a jet (fast + concentrated shot), a helicopter (mid-speed + spread shot) and a stealth bomber (slow + widespread shot). The "grid" is a pair of options attached to the fighter that absorb bullets, something that serves the purpose of protection but also fills a special meter. When the meter gets full the player gets a bomb to use, in a maximum of 4. By holding down the fire button instead of tapping it, these options can be moved around the fighter, which also affects the way the special bullets provided by the options are shot. The nature of the grid can be changed with an icon that cycles colors: red gives a straight shot, blue a straight laser, orange an impact blast and green a homing mist. The color of your weapon affects how the bombs work: red will explode and damage everything in a certain radius (good for panic), blue fires a very powerful entire-screen double laser, orange gives a series of forward impact blasts and green forms a bigger homing fog that pursues enemies.
The main shot can be powered up 6 times with the P icon. There's also a helper provided by the H icon, which can be a huge helicopter or a huge jet that flies and fires by your side until it's too damaged and dies. Extends are given with 200.000 and 700.000 points.
Beating the game with CONTINUES is one thing, but 1CCing it is a totally different matter due to the elusively implemented rank. And I must say, I could almost call it unfair. Almost in every game that uses bombs it's natural for people to try and play without bombing (after all, bombing is a sign of unpolished - not bad, just unpolished - gameplay). However, in Grid Seeker they are part of survival, thus representing a necessary resource for the mayhem that starts as early as the 4th stage, if you manage to reach it without dying. Rank in this game works primarily with new enemy firepower: don't die, and you'll be presented with stronger foes and straight or heat-seeking missiles that "just weren't there before". Since regular firepower can't overcome everything, bombing becomes part of normal gameplay. And soon it comes to a point where every soaked bullet counts. Every single one.
Scorewise, every extra P icon is worth 1.000 points. End of stage bonuses include: 100 points for each enemy destroyed, 50.000 points for a full bomb stock (4 bombs = 20.000, 3 bombs = 10.000, 2 bombs = 3.000, 1 bomb = 1.000) and 40.000 points if the helper makes it out alive from the boss fight. If you know that a certain enemy will release an icon, don't kill it using the grid (yes, the grid can also damage them) or the item will not appear! It seems that your score also increases the more you protect the helper and don't let it get shot, but that's something I'm not really sure about.
And then comes the dilemma of which fighter to use. The only reasonably fast one is the jet, while the other two are just too slow for my taste. Strangely enough, they are the best choices! The straightforward and concentrated shot of the jet wasn't enough to handle side attacks, so I shifted to the helicopter. And then there was a point where I just used the bomber, a reaaally slow moving wreck whose shot can cover a whole deal of the screen. You can't rely on it to move, so I found it's mandatory to (1) know where to stand, (2) know which grid color works best for each stage, (3) know when to bomb and (4) tap that fire button hard!
I spent more time with this game than I thought I should, so the conclusion is clear: it's not as fun as I thought it would be. It's sluggish and deceitfully difficult, and I bordered the feeling of frustration for not being able to cope with that damn last stage for a long while. In the end it became a matter of honor, and that's never good for an activity that should provide me fun. At least it is over, and over with a bullet: the high score below (level 4 - NORMAL) was reached on a 1-life clear with the bomber. I don't want to play this again any time soon.
About the Taito Legends 2 compilation: it's a very decent one. My copy is the PAL version, but upon boot you can adjust the language and change the frequency to 60 Hz. It seems all vertical shooters are stretched out on a horizontal screen - in order to correct this just go to OPTIONS from the main menu and change "Original Aspect Ratio" to ON. All settings for a particular game can be changed or defaulted before you load it (difficulty, lives, controls). While in the game, you feed credits with the SELECT button and start a run with the L1 button. To save a high score it's necessary to leave the game by pressing START and returning to the main screen. Unfortunately there's no support for TATE.