4 Difficulty levels
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by Taito in 1989
Published by Taito in 2006
Going deep into certain campaigns sometimes leads into situations where a way out might be seemingly impossible. You feel like you're about to drown, consuming yourself in pain and agony while your feet are being dragged down by an octopus and all your efforts to rise to the surface are useless. During the process of 1CCing Master of Weapon I've been through a few of these moments, for this is a game that seems to be programmed to punish players, be it for the excruciating challenge or for one of the most unfortunate set of design choices I have ever seen in the shmup world. All of these harsh traits do make for an outstanding struggle for life, which is directly proportional to how unfair, annoying and disheartening this game can be. If I had to define it in one word, it would definitely be "nightmare".
Master of Weapon is an obscure vertical shooter released in the Arcades by Taito in 1989. Its presence in the PS2 library is equally obscure, since you can find it only in the Taito Memories II Vol. 2 (Gekan) compilation, released exclusively in Japan in 2006. It wasn't a popular game back then and it sure isn't now, but I've been wanting to play it since I laid my eyes on the Mega Drive port a few years back, the one that's regarded by some as the worst shmup for that system. Judging from what I was able to see in MAME, the PS2 version is arcade-perfect and should cater to arcade lovers because it has a proper TATE option. So here's some good hardcore motivation to get to know the game, even though I'm aware that its crudeness will repel most people in a matter of minutes.
For a 1989 title, the graphics in Master of Weapon are a little washed out but OK overall. They don't stand out in any way, aside from some weird, creepy bosses. What it does wrong in so many levels is in its sound design. By now I'm pretty much used to the sound effects, but I'm sure that here you have to endure some of the most irritating bleeps ever recorded for a video game. And the most irritating sound is the one that rings when you die. The music fares a little better, with some catchy and haunting tunes here and there. In spite of this, the BGM for the 5th stage has to be one of the worst songs I have ever heard in any video game. Seriously, it's borderline retarded... At least that's how I felt whenever I would end my credit in this stage while this crappy music was playing, as if it was mocking me even more than the game already did by calling the stage "CRY".
Gameplay is derived from the classic concept of Xevious, in that you have a main gun and a ground weapon that's used to hit ground enemies. Power-ups appear when you destroy flying chips that show up from time to time. In order to upgrade and get autofire for the main gun you must collect the F icon (the default gun has no autofire). Four Fs are needed to achieve maximum power and a 5-way spread gun. The ground weapon can't be upgraded, only changed into a different one. There's P (piercing, default), L (laser), W (wide), G (guide) and H (H-bomb). In order to use them you have to be firing the main gun at the same time, because pressing only the button for ground attack unleashes a series of fast ground shots. When a ground weapon is used it takes a while to recharge to its maximum power, according to the four green blocks at the right lower edge of the screen. It can still be fired when it's recharging, but at a lower power level. The only exception to this is the H-bomb, which can be used only once. G is the best ground weapon by far because it will chase and destroy most ground enemies. When it's not available, the next best weapon is W. I think the default P is a bit more useful than L because you can fire it and retreat to a safer position. And then there's S for speed-up. The brief afterburner effect you get with a speed-up can damage airborne enemies, but be aware that some of them will release suicide bullets when killed.
There's no doubt that Master of Weapon is a very tough game. All enemy shots are aimed at the player, who pilots a ship with a considerably large hitbox. Bullet patterns are exclusive to bosses, as well as some lightning fast huge beams that often catch the player off-guard. Bullet visibility is also a serious issue, with bullet speeds getting ridiculously fast in later stages due to rank progression. The combination of unpredictable enemies and aimed/fast/intensified bullets demands extreme knowledge of enemy behavior and a very aggressive play style if you want to succeed, but there are a few other aggravating things you need to worry about. One of them is the way power-ups are handled: every power-up appears and descends very slowly as it develops a wide circle movement. It's really common to have to painfully avoid an unwanted P or L while you're being bombarded from all sides. Another issue is the treatment of background layers. In certain areas, the layer right below the ship moves so fast that dodging becomes an exercise in anticipation and patience. On top of that, in these cases bullet trajectory is affected by lateral movement, making it even harder to move around in safety.
After four areas cleared with no losses, Yukiwo meets his doom in area 5
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR)
During the time I spent with this game I had two major revelations that I feel obliged to share. The first one came when I was able to get to the 5th area, the one with the large enemy spaceship. As if the game wasn't punishing enough, in this level the AI goes berserk on you. Bullets are twice as fast and twice as frequent, with an onslaught of those green ships that fly unpredictably between layers. Right there and then I realized that if I were to play Master of Weapon on the PS2 only it would take me years to beat the game because I'd have to play the whole thing again every time I got shafted in the 5th stage. Of course the only reasonable thing to do was to fire up MAME and practice stages 5 and 6 with savestates, and I think I did this for a couple of days. The second revelation came to me when I had already shifted back to the PS2: speed-ups. In a normal shmup you normally stick to the ship speed you feel most comfortable with, and in this case I thought I only needed two S icons. The problem was that the game kept sending those damn speed-ups, making me struggle to avoid them like the plague. One day I got a third speed-up by accident, and guess what happens? No more speed-ups for the rest of the game! Oh, how I wish I knew this before I started playing... So there you have it: get used to grabbing three speed-ups up front and be less annoyed by the power-up system.
If there's one thing you can't complain about in this game is its fast, frantic pace. It keeps you on your toes all the time. I really think you gotta be "in the zone" here, because the game calls for heavy memorization, sharp reflexes, cautious ground enemy point-blanking and extreme adaptation. Most of the difficulty lies in the fact that popcorn enemies are randomly generated and often behave erratically. If you kill some of them fast enough they can increase in numbers and virtually clutter the screen, leaving you no room to maneuver. I might be wrong here, but I think it helps to lower rank when you kill that tiny bug that shows up below those blue crawling beetles. In any case, the only definitive way to reduce rank is by dying, and that's when the extends given with 500.000 and 1 million points become helpful. Also helpful is the fact that certain ground targets will always release the same power-ups. And depending on how rank goes, sometimes some enemies will not appear at all (such as the red snake in the middle of the 5th stage).
In Master of Weapon stages are "areas" and have very diverse lengths as the player fights in a nuked, mutant-ridden planet. The 1st area takes less than a minute, while the 5th one seems to go on forever. Credit feeding will not allow you to see the creepy and easy true last boss. The score is not reset if you continue, but the number of continues is shown in the high score table (in the PLAY column). Despite its torturing difficulty, Master of Weapon is also known for a cheesy shameless plug: Yukiwo, the name of the main character, is also the name of the main programmer. And a weird note: the in-game opening message shows September 11 as the date of ship departure, but if the year shown was 200X instead of 199X then we would have a real shmup omen in our hands...
My 1CC high score, playing on NORMAL on a straight TV (YOKO):