1 Difficulty level
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by Make Software
Published by Pack-in-video in 1992
Instead of using the well-known strategy of adding “Super”, “Special” or “Custom” to the title, which was the common practice for CD-revamped versions of HuCard games, Pack-in-Video decided to rename Power Gate as Hawk F-123 when releasing it for the PC Engine CD in 1992. Granted, it’s not the same game, but Hawk F-123 recycles a handful of sprites from Power Gate, also servicing the expected overhaul in music and presentation. Add a few changes in gameplay and the final result is a slightly better shooting experience, a bit more balanced in some areas but overall still more recommended to hardcore 1CC completists such as myself.
The setting is pretty much the same, although this time there are 8 stages instead of 6. The game starts and ends with the obligatory CD cut scenes of the era, with accompanying music but no spoken dialogue. Once more you pilot a jet airplane against the usual flock of enemies, aided by an arsenal of 3 main weapons and several types of auxiliary firepower.
Going from HuCard to CD media made the gameplay a little more fluid, or at least that’s how I felt when controlling the jet’s hitbox in Hawk F-123. I couldn’t help but think of how much of an Aero Blasters (aka Air Buster) wannabe it turned out, especially during the sections where those missiles start falling from out of the screen onto your back. There are more similarities, but these are very subtle, and I wonder if Pack-in-Video’s programmers received word to emulate Kaneko’s style when making the game. Or maybe this is just a stupid observation, I don't know.
With the exception of the homing special weapon, Hawk F-123 incorporates almost everything Power Gate had as gameplay and adds new stuff to it. The biggest difference is the addition of 2 new weapons that are interchangeable with colored icons. Besides the default straight shot (red), now it's possible to use a laser (blue) and a special shot with impact blast (yellow). This last shot type gets split every time it hits something, damaging other targets along the way. They are powered up by getting the same icons repeatedly. Other permanent weapons are homing missiles (H), bouncing energy balls (P) and options/multiples (up to 2 tracing small planes). You must choose between homing missiles and energy balls, it's not possible to use both at once, and the auxiliary small planes absorb enemy bullets but disappear after taking enough hits. There are 4 limited special weapons: the temporary shield, the protecting circle, straight power missile and the 8-way power blast. They work the same way as in Power Gate. The hourglass activates the ground bombs, S goes for speed-ups and D for speed-downs. Every icon is worth 200 points, and you can get all speed-ups you want because the jet never gets too fast.
When trying to improve the difficulty, the developer ditched the health bar and increased the extend routine to 50.000, 100.000 and for every 100.000 points thereafter. Bosses also got tougher, and the increased amount of parallax in some stages adds to the challenge of dealing with bullets and enemies. That would've worked fine if it weren't for one thing: the shield special weapon. After you've learned how to deal with it every single boss becomes a joke - saving at least one shield for every tricky boss is the best hint ever to be given about Hawk F-123. It's almost unfair against the game's AI, really! It's so unfair I was able to clear the game on one life, an accomplishment that wouldn't be so easy had this shield thing been left out of the game.
Complete opening and selected takes on Hawk F-123
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR - that's me!)
There is some slowdown, but it doesn't hurt the gameplay that much. Morevover, plenty of color and a decent variety in graphics help establish the mild entertainment this title is capable of providing. The music is probably the most interesting aspect though. Most of the tunes from Power Gate received better quality renditions, and it was a clever move to reserve the best BGM for the 4th stage, by far the longest one in the package. The soundtrack's got a surprisingly jazzy feel, thankfully not in the sense of elevator music, but just enough to keep you wondering "wow, that's not exactly the type of music I would expect here... and here". I thought it was okay.
To wrap it up, let me point out some laziness signs from Pack-in-Video, which seemed to be one of the out-of-the-mill developers/publishers for the PC Engine. In Hawk F-123:
- there's no high score buffering - if you're going for the 1CC remember to pause the game right after the final boss is beaten or you'll lose your score!
- the game halts indefinitely in the end credits screen (RUN + SELECT to leave it)
- there was no planning for when the stock display reaches 10 lives - check my HS picture below to see why
- problem: the game crashed on me once when I defeated the 2nd boss - the jet was kept flying forever and the stage would never end (Earth Defense, anyone?)
- problem: the game froze on me once during the 6th stage