Saturday, October 28, 2023

Granada (Mega Drive)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
9 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Wolfteam
Published by Renovation in 1990

Ever since Tank and Combat were released by Atari for its arcade and home systems during the 70s, the idea of controlling tanks in a video game wasn't as engrossing as most other motifs but resulted in a few directly inspired titles such as Grobda and Assault. The multidirectional gameplay then branched into similar approaches such as Smash TV and Robotron 2084, but none of these titles were really friendly towards players since they're nothing more than massive quarter-munchers at their core. That's why Granada felt so fresh from the start, after all it's a tank-based shooter where you definitely feel success is a possibility despite its fair share of obstacles.

The Mega Drive version is a port of the original game released for the X68000 home computer system, and as far as I know represents an improvement except for the amount of onscreen colors and the lack of cut scenes. The gameplay on the Mega Drive is faster and more dynamic all around, generally throwing more obstacles at the player as well as a brand new stage (7th). The sound design is a debatable subject though, yet you can't go wrong with another nice soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba. Even if it isn't in the same league as other Wolfteam games like Sol-Deace or El Viento, the soundtrack to Granada is definitely one of the highlights of the game.

How to get the secret cannon blaster upgrade in stage 2
(courtesy of YouTube user про игры)

Every stage in Granada takes place in a confined area shown in the radar map at the lower corner of the screen. Inside the map red dots indicate your targets, which range from simple turrets to tanks and larger bases, depending on the level. Only after all targets are destroyed you'll be able to fight the stage boss, in a progression of nine levels that take you through both ground and aerial bases with varying degrees of difficulty. You have four lives with 15 energy cells each to get through the game in the Normal difficulty, and once all of them are depleted the journey is over. There are absolutely no energy refills and no extra lives to be found, so do your best to remain unharmed and preserve energy for the hardest parts of the game.

In order to achieve success a balance needs to be stricken between agressiveness and caution. Default controls work with A for shot, B for locking/strafing and C for the cannon blaster, a single burst attack that's more powerful than the regular shot. In the Options screen you can also switch the rotation setting to "slow", but there's no reason to do that since you definitely need agility when dealing with hordes of enemies coming from all sides. Controls work like a charm and service the fast pace of the game really well, an aspect that's sort of unexpected if you're coming from older tank-based games. Here we're talking about a highly advanced armored tank after all, but I can't help but feel something is off when I see it bounce and glide so fast at times. It just feels too light, and in my opinion a better sound design could've certainly alleviated this impression.

Regardless of the initial impression, Granada is a game that tends to grow on you. It's definitely a slow burner, one that becomes really engaging once players start to complete levels with little to no damage taken. Eventually you'll end up devising optimal routes for each stage, not only to tackle the necessary targets but also to collect and use special weaponry that enhances your basic firepower. Known as "support units", they might appear as reflector squares, homing missiles, boomerang discs, explosive bombs and spinning balls. These additional weapons are only active during the level in which they were collected except for the secret item found in stage 2, which is active for the whole credit. In order to get it head to the end of the left large wing right away and move towards the thin extension down below, hovering at its very tip for a few seconds. A flying item will appear and sink into the tank, doubling the power of the cannon blaster. The recoil becomes even stronger, so watch out whenever you're blasting the cannon while standing on borderless surfaces. Falls are fatal and make you lose a whole life instantly.

One particular quirk of Granada is that generally you don't suffer any damage by touching enemies, only by being hit. Some attacks might take more than one energy cell though. Boss fights are in a category of their own since their routines vary considerably. Some cycle through several attack patterns, others expose weak spots after a while. Glaring exceptions are the 4th boss and the need to bounce your firepower on walls to hit him from an angle, and also the 5th boss, which can be easily destroyed by going behind him and firing away. The hardest fight happens against the 6th boss and its multiple detachments, which represent the first big wall players need to climb in their quest for the 1CC. Well-placed blasters should do the trick there, but the fight can quickly deteriorate into a panic feast if you don't keep your cool.

Having a showdown against the 3rd boss

When speaking about the scoring system, the simplicity of Granada can actually be a little deceiving. In short, it rewards players who take more risks while preserving health, don't procrastinate (cannon blasters make you move faster backwards!) and suicide when needed. Since each life is timed and time completion is the most important factor in the end-of-stage bonus, exploiting this to maximize the score is just a matter of bringing the boss to the brink of defeat and then dying by timeout, finishing it off as soon as you're respawned with a full timer. The bonus is a simple multiplication of the remaining time × 100 × difficulty factor × stage number. On Easy and Normal settings the difficulty factor is 1, whereas on Hard and Mania it gets boosted to 2 and 3 respectively.

I played the game in the Normal difficulty to get the high score below. A known bug of the Mega Drive version is the lack of the last bonus for the final stage, which isn't computed in the final score. I'll settle with this result though. I could certainly play a little more to refine my strategies, especially in the final level, but alas... It's time to move on. So many games to play, so little time!

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