Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Forgotten Worlds (Playstation 2)

Arena
Checkpoints OFF
8 Difficulty levels
9 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Capcom
Published by Capcom in 2005


And with Forgotten Worlds I have finally beaten the last chapter in the unofficial trilogy of multidirectional shooters developed by Capcom in the 1980s, which started with the great Section Z and continued with the somewhat weird Side Arms. Therefore I returned to the first volume of the Capcom Classics Collection on the Playstation 2, a no-brainer acquisition for everyone who’s into the golden age of arcade games. This particular package has 22 Capcom titles covering all gaming branches, 9 of them belonging to the shoot’em up genre. Pair it with its second volume and there you have it, a great gift for any old school gamer/collector. Don’t forget to give me props when you see the smile on your buddy’s face, okay?

Set in the distant future, the story of Forgotten Worlds involves two unknown soldiers fighting to free the planet from the clutches of an evil god known as emperor Bios. The graphic design changes considerably every three stages, starting on desolate wastelands full of lizard-men and running robots. It shifts to a series of Egyptian-themed chambers populated with indians and floating heads on the 4th level, with later stages taking place above the clouds. By then you’ll be faced with even more dangerous flying enemies, deadly statues, creepy zombie heads and all sorts of laser turrets as you reach Bios’s tower of doom. Getting there takes a good deal of practice, suitable strategy and proper usage of Zenny, Capcom’s official intergalactic money collected either by taking blue orbs or by finding special items.

I believe the two soldiers are genetically engineered to fly because they carry no jetpacks: player 1 (left side) is a white guy who fires a straight bullet stream, player 2 (right side) is a black guy that shoots a three-way spread gun with reduced reach and firing rate. Each one can sustain a determined amount of damage, as indicated by a health bar. Note: Lost Worlds, the Japanese counterpart to the westernized Forgotten Worlds, has a regular 1-hit life system and as a result is a much harder game. Other minor differences exist, but I didn’t bother to check them.

"Hey man, I just found the... hm... guy?"

Unlike its spiritual multidirectional predecessors, in this game Capcom decided to go full arena, so it’s not enough to shoot left and right anymore. The original arcade release of Forgotten Worlds – which was also the first one in Capcom’s famous CPS arcade board – has a control scheme that uses a joystick to move the character and a rotating switch to adjust his aim in sixteen directions and shoot. I never came even close to the arcade cabinet, so my guess is that the game “should” control better on the PS2 controller due to the twin-stick scheme: move the character with the left analog stick, rotate his aim with the right analog stick and shoot with a separate button, configurable as you wish (it’s also possible to use two separate buttons to rotate the aim). Everything else in the gameplay is dictated by a plethora of upgrade items hidden within shops spread across a series of alien fortresses and landscapes.

Spending Zenny wisely inside the upgrade shops means half the task of conquering the game. Sylphie the gorgeous shopkeeper will offer the following types of upgrades:
  • satellite – a special device that hovers around the character and provides several sorts of additional firepower, including v-cannon, napalm, guided missiles, all-direction bomb, laser, burner, (re)bound shot, vulcan/valcan cannon, wide shot, super laser and homing laser;
  • weapon booster – upgrades the main weapon (booster, booster 2, super booster);
  • armor – 3-hit and 5-hit (special) armor, as well as armor repair kits;
  • unit stone – single item that upgrades the power of the main weapon and the satellite at the same time;
  • flying stone – allows speed change between three steps;
  • health – treatment (recovers full health), bowl of life (increases the health bar), potion of resurrection (self-explanatory);
  • information/advice.
Once you get the flying stone and select your desired speed there’s no more need to do it for the rest of the game. Actually, no power-up is ever lost once you activate it. Some of the items bought in the shop increase in value as you successively purchase them (all health items work this way). The later the satellites appear the more expensive they are, as well as all weapon boosters. Much of the fun in Forgotten Worlds comes from testing these upgrades to see which ones work best for your play style or for specific enemies. You can also find a few of these shop items (and other hidden goodies) in the stages themselves by killing certain enemies or shooting secret locations, hence why it’s always a good practice to never stop shooting at any time. Hidden goodies can yield extra Zenny, health or points. Zenny items include small orbs (100), medium orbs (500), large orbs (1.000), barrels (3.000), cones (5.000), a miniature of the robot from Side Arms (8.000) and giant orbs (10.000). Health items include the yasichi (full health recovery), Pow24 and Pow48 (partial health recovery). Bonus points might appear in the form of cows (10K each), strawberries (30K each) and stars (50K each). For a pretty informative inventory on all items check this great little webpage.

Forgotten Worlds can be a relentless challenge, with enemies swarming from all sides as you take successive damage. However, the gameplay also allows for a few defensive capabilities many starting players take for granted, such as the satellite being capable of blocking regular bullets. A particularly non-intuitive input known as “megacrush” can be used to damage all on-screen enemies at once at the expense of a little health. To trigger it you need to quickly double tap the firing button, which is achieved more easily when you stop firing. I did the megacrush by accident a few times before finally figuring out how to do it properly, and that’s when the tougher sections of the game became more manageable (sacrifice health safely if you know you’ll be able to recover it soon).


Credit feeding in co-op
(courtesy of YouTube user goodcowgames)

Besides the shop gimmick (inherited from Fantasy Zone) there are also other aspects in Forgotten Worlds that strike me as quite refreshing for a game originally released in 1988. One of them is the gigantic scope of some bosses, such as the war god in the third stage (who’s worshipped by none other than Vision, who by that time was already dissatisfied with the attention he was getting in the Avengers). Multiple paths in the Egyptian levels add variety and scoring opportunities (take the lower section in stage 5 and destroy the laser turrets to get lots of giant orbs - be on your guard, they take lots of damage). The life system is well implemented in regards to scoring, since the more you practice and refine your game the more Zenny you’ll be able to spare. And pure old greed is all it takes to get higher scores: bosses give higher Zenny bonuses when killed faster, and all remaining cash is converted into points once the game is beaten (final bonus = 1 million + Zenny × 10).

Even though there are moments of relative calm the action is often very hectic, with brief claustrophobic moments that can be worked around if you’re able to keep your cool. For example, it’s always best to wait until the last moment to enter the shops because all on-screen enemies will die instantly once you get out of them. Other than that, using the megacrush attack wisely is essential to control enemy swarms. Forgotten Worlds is great when played alone, and many people also deem it the most fun co-op shmup ever made. Truth be told, it never feels repetitive due to the relatively varied stage design, and the only complaint I could point out is the botched balance between music and sound effects. The sound of explosions and guns firing is so loud you can barely hear the music (which fits the alien setting but doesn't stand out otherwise). As for the digitized voices in the short dialogue intermissions, well... It's all about old school cheesy charm!

The game was successful enough to generate a handful of ports, including versions for the Mega Drive, the Master System and the PC Engine CD. My overall strategy to clear the arcade rendition included in the Capcom Classics Collection was to get the fastest flying stone and napalm in stage 1, switch to “valcan” cannon in stage 4 and get the homing laser in stage 8, while also buying all bowls of life and booster enhancements. The protection provided by the potion of resurrection was often used (if ever) during the fight against Bios, since you never know when he’ll get angry and abuse those unavoidable lasers. My best 1CC results are shown below (Normal difficulty).

8 comments:

  1. Very nice review. I like this game, but the music is so weak.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, shmup collector sensei!
      Yeah, the music isn't thaaaat engaging, but I think it gets the job done.

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  2. I just bought this for PS2 and the controls seemed to be set in stone. You're saying that I am able to change them?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, from my experience you should be able to change the control settings.
      Which region is your copy? Mine is the US/NTSC.
      but wait, was this even released in other regions? I don't remember...

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    2. It was released in Japan and Europe too.

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    3. Thank you. I hard a more thorough look at my copy and discovered how to change the controls. Unfortunately the best control scheme was not available. I wanted the right stick's down-press to control the firing but that option was not available. Also noticed that rotating the right stick aimed the guy in one of 16 directions instead of sweeping through like an optical spinner. Disappointed in the game, but thank you for your help.

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    4. I agree with you. Firing in right stick it would be a good idea.

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    5. Yeah, firing while moving the stick is fine, but not down-pressing it. It would be just like one of today's twin-stick shooters.

      I don't think the down-press scheme would work well with the Sony controller. That's why I think using a separate button to fire is actually useful in Forgotten Worlds, at least for the indian level where hitting the wrong gate can lead you to an undesired split.

      Delete