Monday, January 24, 2011

Dead Moon (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by T.S.S.
Published by T.S.S. in 1991

A meteor is heading towards the Earth, but before it crashes cientists are able to divert it to the Moon. Later on they discover that it wasn't an ordinary rock from outer space. Our dear natural satellite has been infested by an alien race, and it's up to you to stop them from extending their evil claws over our blue planet. So what do you say, are you up to the challenge?

The backstory to Dead Moon is a cool one, and is presented in its full glory in an atmospheric and lengthy sequence that's preceded by huge fonts animated just like in the opening from The Terminator - excerpts from Brad Fiedel's awesome soundtrack would've been welcome, but they're not there. With such a great opening it's natural to expect the same amount of awesomeness from the gameplay itself, but unfortunately this isn't the case. Dead Moon unfolds with no big frills along six stages, starting on Earth and ending inside the Moon. For a shmup, this loose story progression is nonetheless satisfying and also includes a depart from the stratosphere, a surface approach on the moon, a lunar cave and a lunar hidden river. The game just doesn't tell you in the end if you were able to revive the Moon from its dead status, but I guess that doesn't matter much, does it?

No, this is not Darius!

Controls in this game are fast. This probably happens due to the ship's speed, which is considerably high even if you select the lower speed when pausing. Just like in MUSHA, in this case you need to pause in order to choose up to four different speeds... The good thing is that you're allowed to move anywhere around the screen because there are absolutely no obstacles besides enemies and bullets. As well as the impressive parallax scrolling, this free gameplay style tries to cover up the simplicity in the overall design, which when seen under an isolated perspective is fairly mediocre to be honest.

Battling the multitude of enemies is made easier by the power-ups, brought by a tiny yellow ship you have to destroy. Main weapon power-ups are color-based: yellow (default) is the vulcan spread pattern, red fires a series of rings that also have a spread capability, blue fires lasers and green results in a wave cannon. It takes three power-ups of the same color to reach full power. Once maxed out, a new power-up of the same color will give you an extra bomb (each life comes with 3 bombs by the way). Ancillary power-ups include guided missiles or defense orbs - selecting one deactivates the other, and they're also upgraded when new icons of the same type are taken. Sometimes a blinking item will appear, and its function is to wipe out all on screen enemies. Every time you get a new icon the ship gets invincible for a split-second, an invaluable help during cluttered situations. On the other hand, every time the ship gets hit it loses one power level, eventually dying if it gets shot while you're with only a primary/default weapon.

Generic as it might seem, I do see in Dead Moon some vivid inspiration from the Darius series. You have lots of enemies arriving in formation, a green weapon that's the equivalent to the wave power level of the first Darius and the ability to turn the ship around during boss battles. You even get to play underwater during the 5th stage and fight a huge coelacanth reminiscent of good old King Fossil. The bosses, by the way, are all inspired in animals, with weak points generally protected by exposed skeletons. There's a pterodactyl, a turtle, a dinosaur, an ostrich, the aforementioned fish and an undescribable floating skull at the end of the game.

Dead Moon's intro on the Turbografx-16
(courtesy of YouTube user kingarthurpendragon)

Dead Moon feels cheap, but it suits a fast shmup romp where you don't want to think too much about what you're doing. Don't be shy to pause and change the speed of the ship, some enemies get a lot easier to deal with if you do so. If you manage to kill all enemies within a stage you get a bulky bonus of 500.000 points, just bear in mind that if you want to get a 100% destruction ratio you can't dispatch enemies using the smart bomb blinking item. Extends come with 200.000 points and then for every half million afterwards.

The trick to get extremely high scores is to destroy the meteors during the second stage, because each meteor is worth a huge (I mean HUGE) chunk of points. This is probably the most extreme case of scoring system unbalance I've ever seen in an old school shmup. If you think about it, that's where the whole rush lies if you want to play this game competitively, even though I heard that it's possible to milk one of the bosses forever in a safe spot and counterstop the game. I didn't bother checking that and I did no milking whatsoever in all my Dead Moon runs.

My final result is probably a good one, but it's definitely possible to amass an even higher score.


  1. So, Dead Moon not is so good. It's strange that the developer is Natsume. If you destroy all enemies, you reach the counter stop?

  2. From what I could gather, Natsume was the publisher of the game for the Turbografx-16 in USA. There's no mention to Natsume in the Japanese game.
    At the shmups forums it was mentioned you can milk the 3rd boss forever on those missiles using a safe spot. I guess that's where you can get the counterstop, but I believe it would take days to do this because the missiles are almost worthless. In any case, I couldn't find this safe spot anywhere! hehehe

  3. I used to have this game a long time ago and i was pretty bad at it lol.