Thursday, April 27, 2023

Wonder 3 [Chariot] (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Capcom
Published by Digital Eclipse in 2006

Three full-blown games in one single arcade title isn't something you see regularly. Three Wonders, also known as Wonder 3 in Japan, was Capcom's take on such an odd formula, featuring a platformer, a shmup and a puzzler. The elf characters of the platformer Midnight Wanderers - Quest for the Chariot (Roosters in the Japanese version) are the same ones that appear in Chariot - Adventure through the Sky, whereas the puzzler Don't Pull features a cute design reminiscent of Pengo and Bomberman. Since this is a shmup-oriented blog, the option I played last week was obviously Chariot. It's actually my second time doing it, since I had already spent some time with the port released for the Sega Saturn in 1998.

Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 on the Playstation 2 is one of the several ways you can experience Three Wonders in the comfort of your living room. It's a perfectly fine version that includes automatic saving, full button remapping with additional autofire and a few related extras. The game itself is extremely colorful with a sweet art design that kinda predates the visual style Capcom would later infuse in titles like Eco Fighters. It's also got a simple rank progression that makes the game slightly harder the longer you remain alive, which is something I didn't really notice back when I played the Saturn port.

First stage of Chariot
(courtesy of YouTube user Oto Mitas)

As you take to the skies with any of the two characters (co-op possible) you’re allowed to shoot and to fire a "crash" attack based on your tail energy. There’s no autofire by default for the shot input but you can activate it the options (set rapid fire to ON). Shot type is dictated by colored power-ups released by floating chests. The wide shot (red, default) has a good spread coverage and generates a single straight blast as crash attack, whereas the straight/rapid shot (green) is totally focused but fires a wide staggering blast for crash attack. 

The basic and most important strategy to succeed in Chariot is to power up as fast as you can. Four consecutive items of the same color are necessary to maximize the shot power level, but chests also release other essential upgrades such as the option that increases the size of your tail (up to seven segments), the bomb (B) that activates a ground projectile (a second B adds a trailing effect that extends the reach of the bomb) and the emblem that gives you a 1-hit shield in the form of a golden chariot (appears only once in selected stages). Regarding tail size, it’s important to mention that the larger the tail the more crash attacks you can fire in succession. Each one consumes 3 tail segments, but fortunately tail energy recharges rather quickly over time. Tail energy is also consumed when you use the tail to deflect bullets and damage enemies coming from behind, so take note of that if you're surrounded by enemy flocks closing in from all sides. 

Remaining items related to survival and scoring can come either from chests or from destroying particular enemies or enemy waves. The first one is the heart that adds to an extend counter: the small heart adds +1 and the big heart adds +5 towards milestones of 50, 70 and 90 for three possible extra lives. The second item is the coin, one of the backbones of the game’s scoring system. The common rule in every stage is that for each coin collected before the next one appears its value increases in nine steps from 100 to 4.800 points. Special situations happen after mid-boss encounters (always take the coin of highest value last) and during sections with lots of coins appearing at the same time, where coin value increases slowly no matter how many of them are on screen.

Throughout the level the most simple way to increase coin value is by killing the enemy waves that give out coins, that's why you need to avoid destroying turrets that spit out said waves (each stage has its own type of coin-generating turret). A few other simple scoring techniques allow for easy extra points if you play well enough, such as speed-killing bosses and collecting all surplus power-ups once everything is already upgraded. Each one is worth 5.000 points, but another extra chariot on top of an active one yields 10.000 points. Finally, upon completing the game each remaining life is worth 50.000 points and all hearts in stock are also added to the score.

Choose your destiny

Within its classic structure and the somewhat uneven duration of stages, Chariot is certainly a charming fun shooter that's bound to please those who enjoy fantasy themed games. While it doesn't really fall into the cute'em up realm, the diversity is refreshing and bosses are a sight to behold with some incredible designs that evoke – or try to evoke – astrology signs. The item shower they spit out when dying is an amusing detail as well. On a broad assessment the game isn't overly hard, but rank does impose more pressure later on because it causes enemies to fire more bullets and bosses to become more aggressive. Remember that it's not harmful to touch walls and surfaces.

Even though the naming of the game is confusing with Three Wonders, 3 Wonders and Wonder 3 being thrown out there without much ceremony, it's clear by the name of the platformer (Midnight Wanderers) that I have played the World/Western version of Chariot. I noticed a few differences here and there when comparing my runs with footage of the Japanese version, such as the smaller size of bullets, slightly diverse movement/placement patterns for enemies and one noteworthy difference in the absence of debris from the moving blocks in stage 2. Some sources state that the Japanese version is harder, but I'd say there's not much to warrant any heated argument on difficulty differences.

My 1CC score was achieved in the Normal difficulty on the player 1 side. If you feel the continue feature is annoying because it registers automatically if you press the shot button during the continue countdown, just switch continues to NONE in the options screen.

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