Tuesday, February 2, 2016

X-Multiply (Saturn)

Horizontal
Checkpoints ON
3 Difficulty levels
7 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Irem in 1989
Published by Irem / Xing in 1998


I have mixed feelings towards X-Multiply. I do enjoy the organic setting that supposedly puts you inside the organs a living being. It's as if Irem had deviated from the path established by R-Type and somehow entered the world of Konami's Life Force. The issue here is that the game falls a little short in its graphic design, which at times lacks background detail and doesn't quite feel like an evolution from the company’s previous titles. The music, however, is absolutely superb in its otherworldly, deliciously eerie nature. All of this makes me think of X-Multiply as a lost link between the first wave of big horizontals and their sequels/progressions, seeing that it doesn’t really belong to either category.

As explicitly stated in the title, X-Multiply comes bundled with Image Fight in the Image Fight & X-Multiply compilation, released for the Sega Saturn and the Playstation only in Japan around ten years after both games were out in the arcade scene. Even though Image Fight is the superior one here, X-Multiply at least doesn't fail to provide decent atmosphere, fair challenge and reasonable recovery possibilities upon death. This last aspect of the game is what makes it relatively approachable especially when compared with Irem's own classic R-Type, where dying in certain parts of the credit pretty much meant a sorry GAME OVER.

X-Multiply on the Sega Saturn - Intro, attract mode and 1st stage
(courtesy of YouTube user Kylemeister13)

Throughout all seven stages of X-Multiply the player will be subject to a wide array of organic enemies, from a legion of spores glued on walls to deadly amoebas, pustulent orifices, tissue rashes releasing violent antibodies, moving bowels, acid droplets, invincible worms and alien parasites a.k.a. bosses. Gameplay couldn’t be more simple because only one button is used to shoot, with rapid fire naturally assigned to button B. Above all, the feature that defines this game is the moving pair of tentacles acquired by the spaceship as soon as the first power-up is collected. These tentacles bounce about gracefully as the player moves, resting in an elegant vertical alignment if you stop moving. And what a treat, the mechanical transmission of the tentacles is so advanced that not a single ounce of inertia exists! Thanks, Irem.

Not only do the tentacles increase your firepower and range, but they also provide protection against most enemy projectiles. Nonetheless special attention should be taken when moving them, since there’s always the risk of a stray bullet getting through. The first power-up collected will only activate the tentacles, but after the second one you’ll start to take advantage of their abilities according to a simple color code: red (lasers), blue (homing missiles) and yellow (directional shots – shoot backwards if you move forward and vice-versa). Since there’s no need to stick to the same item to upgrade your firepower just take whatever comes your way and be happy.

Other items available consist of speed-up (S), speed-down (Ƨ), ground bomb/missile (B) and extra life (1UP). Those Darius-like ground missiles can be fairly destructive when used at point blank distance (precious advice here), particularly after you take the second B, and while I do appreciate the ability to reduce speed if you happen to take successive speed-ups, in my opinion just one speed-up is enough to play through the whole game. No matter how many you decide to use, even the most simple memorization effort eventually leads to victory since this is a classic methodical shooter.

And even though it's definitely there, rank in X-Multiply seems to be simply related to the number of lives you have in stock (that's easily noticed when you die against one of the later bosses). Note that the only extra lives appear halfway into stages 3 and 6.

Come into my swift, swift arms

X-Multiply’s highlights are the bosses, a gallery of huge parasites that live up to the legacy started by Dobkeratops. Without a doubt they’re the best visual assets of the game, which might go unnoticed due to the amount of dodging you might need to execute at times. The fourth boss, for example, is nicely animated in its horrific representation, detaching the chest so that it chases you around amidst spreads of huge pink bullets, only then exposing the pulsating heart that needs to be destroyed for the battle to end.

Unfortunately, when talking about the porting job of this particular release I can’t help but show disappointment because X-Multiply suffers from the same resolution issue of Image Fight. Simply put, the game is just “too big” to fit a regular TV screen, to the point where the lower HUD won’t even show your score properly! To get around that the publisher added extra functions to the shoulder buttons: L moves the HUD into the visible area, R moves it back to its starting position. Don't get your hopes up though, seeing the HUD is totally detrimental to survival because it blocks a large chunk of the screen... And sadly there’s nothing to be done about the upper border, so I needed to educate myself on how far I could go in certain levels to not die by touching it. At the expense of sharpness, the Playstation port deals with that more gently.

Maybe retributing the move made by Irem, later on Konami took the concept of this game and further developed it into Xexex, a game that kinda turns X-Multiply into R-Type by having the tentacles detach from the ship just like the original force pod from the latter.

My best effort with the Saturn version of X-Multiply is below. I reached stage 2-6 playing on Normal difficulty.

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